Monday, 15 January 2018

Exchange Lounge, Manchester

Exchange Lounge, Manchester
Evening all. I've been gallivanting again. I found Exchange Lounge through Instagram last week, one minute I'm admiring their pies, then a few days later I was there! Funny one this. So it's part of the Novotel, and is accessible from their lobby, but if you access it through the Exchange front door, you may never even know it's part of a hotel.

I've stayed at some really swanky hotels where they haven't got this balance right. You know the type, bars that feel like an extension of reception, folk milling about with luggage and suit carriers, and fellas drinking a single malt on their own to numb the pain of another mundane night away with work. You can spot them a mile off.

Exchange is a bit different. Whilst it's still got the feel of a restaurant, there are also great people watching spots by the window on tall stools, a comfy zone to sit and chill with a drink, a well stocked bar with friendly staff, and large screens that show the news and sport.

We had a nice little mix of house cocktails and beers, with highlights being the spicy 'dark and stormy', and a rather unusual ABC breakfast stout, which had a little hit of coffee, without being treacle thick like a standard stout.

Croquette of the week - cheese and chorizo: When is deep fried cheese and chorizo ever bad? I'd advise letting them cool before shoving them in your mouth, but my own gluttony aside, these were really rather good. Quite a large portion for a starter, but you'll never hear me complain about too much food.

Fish Taco: Not what I expected, but a lovely spiced fish on a bed of fresh, crunchy salad.
'The Mill' burger - double patty with cheese, bacon and gherkins: I'm not keen on ordering burgers outside of 'proper burger joints' for fear of a soul-less, tasteless, overdone, dry patty served in a barm* (*bap/batch/roll/flour cake - delete as appropriate). Simplicity won the day here. No fuss, but the basics done well. Extra points for the big pickle.
10oz rib eye steak with skinny fries and garlic butter: The type that comes with little charred bits... I have to say, despite this being a sniff overcooked, this is one of the best steaks I've had in a pub style setting. The flavour on the outside from the grill was fantastic. Well worth £19.

Bread and butter putting with custard: I love a good pudding, especially with custard. Best bit about this dessert was the abundant demerara sugar baked onto the top of the pudding for a sweet crunch. It could have done with being a little warmer, but I was still a big fan of this.
Trio of crème brûlée - coffee, chocolate and vanilla with shortbread fingers: Although these little pots are only small, there's plenty of brûlée here. I struggle with this dessert as I find it a bit too smooth and samey, so three different flavours were a nice touch

As we sat and scoffed this lovely food, we chatted about when and why you might visit Exchange Lounge, as it's not immediately clear. It's near the end of Portland Street which is close to Oxford Road, so I'd say it's a good, slightly quieter venue for pre theatre/gig food and drinks. If you're not eating, that's fine as there's a comfortable bar area too. Similarly, it's a decent place to go and watch whatever sport is on too, owing to the large screens which had the cricket on whilst we're there, although this is not at an offensive volume.

I'm not sure what I was expecting of Exchange, I just know that the food was a pleasant surprise, the staff were friendly, they took time to talk to us despite clearly being rushed off their feet, and the atmosphere was nice and calm. Very enjoyable indeed!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Terrible Cat Bundt

Terrible Cat Bundt
This bundt is an utter masterclass in bad taste. Imagine the scene... I'm sat at work, about to finish for the day and get the ingredients for my mum's birthday cake, with zero inspiration. When you've been baking them for pure time like me, you start to run out of ideas. I turned to my pal Richard, who asked what my mum likes in general; 'cats, pink, and glitter'. 'Do that' was the reply. I did as well you know.

Our Kaz loves anything that's a bit over the top. She has at least 275 cushions on each couch, and even her Christmas decorations are pink (read 'evil'). I already had a bag of amazingly naff plastic cats (as you do), and loads of glittery, shimmery, and all round twinkly items in my bundt cupboard. I was off!

I'm not going to post the recipe for this one, as it could be done to any bundt, although I am 100% convinced that not a single one of you will ever recreate this monstrosity. Served on a Cath Kidston tablecloth, and gazed upon her own felines Nellie and Ruby, she adored this cake. She asked if they helped, I advised no, as they are cats. I filled it with Dolly mix, as my mum is the one who gave me the name Dolly so many moons ago.


Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic 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.

Pretzel and Salted Caramel Bundt

Pretzel and Salted Caramel Bundt
Bundt nerves... I was off to meet Mr Nordic Ware, Marcus for our annual catch up at the Cake and Bake Show. I realised the week before that I had never actually made him a bundt, which seemed almost perverse, so I sorted myself out and got my pinny on. As if he had never actually tried my cake before... I could have been an utter charlatan who made things that taste of muck and dust.

I have never been so nervous whilst baking before! I decided to make a pretzel and salted caramel bundt after spotting a bag of giant pretzels in M&S, and being quite smitten by the idea of decorating with them. I then went on this mad spree of finding all sorts of pretzel related items, most of which I didn't actually use, and had to dispose of by eating them. Tough gig.

Second task was to get said bundt to Marcus in one piece, whist travelling to Event City, over the heinous Barton Bridge, in rush hour traffic. He then had to get it home to the Midlands without it looking like an utter wreck! I'm reliably informed that it got there just fine, albeit missing a few pretzels... luckily he had quite a few.

Ingredients:
  • 225g butter
  • 450g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 350g Homepride plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 250ml toffee yoghurt (I used Muller Light)
  • 12 medium sized pretzels

Topping:
  • Carnation caramel
  • All the pretzels. I used Giant (M&S), salted caramel (Tesco), and popping candy ones (M&S).

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with melted butter and dust with flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
  6. Pour the yoghurt into a jug, and add the vanilla extract.
  7. Sift in a third of the flour mix followed by half the yoghurt. Repeat this until everything is combined. 
  8. Give everything a quick mix on a low speed for about 10 seconds.
  9. Pour the mix into your prepared tin. 
  10. Poke in the 12 pretzels in the formation of the hours on a clock. Ensure they are just covered.
  11. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  12. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  13. When completely cool, warm the caramel slightly in the microwave until it's slightly runny. 
  14. Tip it over your cake and let it drip down. 
  15. Decorate you have to use every pretzel you excitedly found whilst shopping. Hell, throw some glitter on too!

Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic 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.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Elf Bundt

Elf Bundt
I effing love Will Ferrell. On the flip-side, my mum despises him, and hates Buddy even more. I have no idea how this is even possible, and if I didn't look just like her, would be perhaps questioning my parentage. I obviously made this a couple of weeks ago, I'm not some January pervert, but the post has been delayed slightly owing to an unfortunate bout of pleurisy. Nasty.

I'd wanted to make this for an age. I decided to base it on the Elf four main food groups of 'candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup'. So it went a little something like this... maple syrup flavoured cake, covered in icing, glitter, sweets, candy canes, and Poptarts (obviously). The smell when I removed the lid from this one was enough to knock an elf off his shelf! Gee wizz, it was quite something.

So if you fancy making an understated Elf cake, this is how...

Ingredients:
  • 225g butter
  • 350g golden caster sugar
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 350g Homepride plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 250ml maple syrup yoghurt (I used Yeo Valley)

Topping:
  • Icing sugar
  • Water
  • Enough sweets to make you puke

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with melted butter and dust with flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice.
  6. Pour the yoghurt into a jug, and add the vanilla extract.
  7. Sift in a third of the flour mix followed by half the yoghurt. Repeat this until everything is combined. 
  8. Give everything a quick mix on a low speed for about 10 seconds.
  9. Pour the mix into your prepared tin. 
  10. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  11. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  12. When completely cool, add enough water to the icing sugar to make a runny icing. 
  13. Tip it over your cake and let it drip down. 
  14. Decorate like a lunatic in a sweet shop.

Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic 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.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Gingerbread Latte Bundt Cake

Gingerbread Latte Bundt Cake
I meant to do this one last year, I just ran out of festive baking time. Plus, there's only so much cake my lot can eat. I'm not actually a fan of coffee flavoured cakes, but this one's a bit of an anomaly. If you like coffee cakes, you'll be just grand, if you don't, it's not an overpowering flavour because of the spices. You could make this at any time of year, but it's a nice festive alternative to the muck that is Christmas cake.

It might seem like sacrilege to use instant coffee, but there is method in my madness. I wanted a slightly stronger flavour than what was in the yoghurt alone, and the freeze dried granules stay like coffee 'chips' or flecks in the cake, and look nice!

Ingredients:
  • 225g butter
  • 350g golden caster sugar
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp gingerbread coffee syrup (I used Monin)
  • 350g Homepride plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 250ml latte flavoured greek yoghurt (I used Muller)
  • 3 tsp good quality instant coffee 

Topping:
  • Icing sugar
  • More gingerbread syrup
  • Water

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with melted butter and dust with flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices.
  6. Pour the yoghurt into a jug, and add the vanilla extract and syrup.
  7. Sift in a third of the flour mix followed by half the yoghurt. Repeat this until everything is combined. 
  8. Add the coffee granules.
  9. Give everything a quick mix on a low speed for about 10 seconds.
  10. Pour the mix into your prepared tin. It will be quite thick.
  11. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  12. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  13. When completely cool, add enough syrup to the icing sugar to make a runny icing. You can use a bit of water if you like.
  14. Tip it over your cake and let it drip down. 
  15. Decorate in a festive fashion.

Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic 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.

Parliament Tattoo Speculoos Bundt

Parliament Tattoo Christmas Bundt
Photo credit: Barba VanDømd
I adore Rebecca Vincent. She loves Harry Potter, has the most accurate moral compass of anyone I have ever met, is full of wisdom, and happens to do the best tattoos ever. Forever ever. I travel to London to have her scratch me with ink, which never feels like a chore. I love Parliament Tattoo and the other folk who work there, especially that little cutie Barba, who takes the best photos!

After a shit-house year, I decided to have a tattoo which represented comfort. When things were particularly bad, I started seeing robins everywhere; looking through the window, sat beside me as I ate lunch, one feeding another a foot away from me, in my work car parking space etc... They always made me smile because they reminded me of my legendary rabbit boy, Robin. I knew I had to have a little lad on my arm, so he'd be with me all the time. I've put the before and after pictures below just so you can see how amazing she actually is!

Whether I'm day tripping to London, or Rebecca comes to Manchester, I always take baked goods. It's the law. I've done a couple of Harry Potter themed cakes for her already, but this was Christmas time, so I decided it had to be 'Parliament Tattoo Christmas' themed. The studio is full of animal skulls, crazy foliage and religious paraphernalia, so I had to make something along those lines. I made a spicy Speculoos flavoured cake, with Jack Daniels Honey icing. Festive like.
Parliament Tattoo Christmas Bundt
Ingredients:
  • 225g butter
  • 350g golden caster sugar
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 350g Homepride plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 4 tbsp Speculoos spread. Lotus and Lidl both do this. If you can't find it, regular Lotus Biscoff spread will work just fine. 
  • 250ml honey flavoured low fat yoghurt 

Topping:
  • Icing sugar
  • Jack Daniels Honey bourbon (optional - you can use apple juice or water instead)
  • A shitload of cake glitter (optional)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with melted butter and dust with flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices.
  6. Pour the yoghurt into a jug, and add the vanilla extract.
  7. Sift in a third of the flour mix followed by half the yoghurt. Repeat this until everything is combined. 
  8. Dollop in the Speculoos spread.
  9. Give everything a quick mix on a low speed for about 10 seconds.
  10. Pour the mix into your prepared tin. It will be quite thick.
  11. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  12. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  13. When completely cool, add the bourbon to the icing sugar, and mix to make a runny icing. You can use a bit of water if you like.
  14. Tip it over your cake and let it drip down. 
  15. Blast with glitter like you're decorating a grotto.

Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic 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.

Grand Pacific, Manchester

Grand Pacific, Manchester
I had bloody pleurisy. Over Christmas. Before that, my pal Ellie had some sort of bubonic plague type thing during her 30th birthday week. Luckily for us, we had a window of opportunity between both lurgies where we were able to have an idyllic afternoon being pampered in Grand Pacific in Manchester.

We had been invited to try the afternoon tea, which was Christmas themed throughout December. I'd not been in this building since it was Room a few years ago, so was an eager beaver to see what the magic touch of the Living Ventures fairies had created. Pineapples, that's what. If you've ever been to my gaff, you'll know that I love a golden pineapple! They're everywhere in Grand Pacific, from beautifully styled cocktail receptacles, to the cake stands. It feels opulent yet comfortable, and the bar team are warm and friendly, despite one suggesting my green Christmas dress was an elf outfit... I told him I can get him off that naughty list, if he behaved.
Grand Pacific, Manchester
We were seated quickly and offered drinks almost immediately. I'm really rubbish at picking cocktails, because I'm the type who gets over excited by everything I read, so we asked our waiter for surprises. Not a single drink was a disappointment, and one even had a peacock feather in it! Bonus points. 
Grand Pacific, Manchester
I love the idea of serving the savoury and sweet items separately. When I spoke to the manager, he said it's much more of a faff this way, but they feel it adds something to the dining experience. Afternoon tea is one of those things where I always think 'ah that doesn't seem like too much food', only to be corrected mid way through a scone whilst gasping for air, and almost choking on some jam.

There was a lovely selection of savoury treats, ranging from the usual sandwiches, to blinis, savoury scones, and sweet salads served on spoons. The variety tricks your subconscious into thinking you haven't really eaten that much after all, and limits the amount of bread. 
Grand Pacific, Manchester
After a short break (and another cocktail), we were presented with the sweet platter. Feeling a little cocky from our successful first round, we still decided to pace ourselves with the sugary stuff. Beautiful home made meringues, Lamington lollypops, trifles, Irish cream truffles, mince tarts, Christmas cake... can you see where this went wrong for us?  Minor death seemed to occur somewhere between the lollypop and the Christmas cake. Truffles were taken home.
Grand Pacific, Manchester
We were presented with a medicinal pot of reviving tea, however my feet felt like lead as we were taken through to the bar to enjoy the rest of our day, people watching on King Street.

What a beautiful afternoon of lovely food and delightful service in decadent surroundings. I can't wait to go back to try the dinner menu at some point. I'll wear something stretchy next time...
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