Foodie Friday: Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake Recipe

One of the big benefits of our recent move has been our proximity to Costco. I know. What a loser. But I’m totally in love with the place. I love wandering around seeing what totally random things they’re selling (a hot tub, a wooden castle, multi packs of Sharpies, TVs bigger than a car….) and honing in on the bargains on offer. Their own-brand stuff is just wonderful….the Kirkland maple syrup is some of the best I’ve ever had, and their vodka is terrific!

They also have some really great organic and whole-food offerings now too, and we’re now getting all our pasta there as well as buying organic virgin coconut oil in bulk. Whilst wandering the aisles there recently we came across a bumper pack of organic coconut flour. Noticing that it’s gluten free and you can use it as a substitute for regular flour, we thought we’d give it a whirl.

Apparently, coconut flour is one of the healthiest available…. because it’s not grain-based like most flour, it is non-inflammatory like those which contain gluten, and is also very low in carbs. The fats are of the more healthy kind (as with coconut oil they are primarily medium-chain saturated fatty acids or ‘MCTs’) and have been shown to improve metabolism, being used up for energy, not stored in fatty tissue. It is also high in fibre, which helps fill you up!

Whilst looking up what we could do with our coconut flour, we found that a little goes a long way….you can’t use it as a straight substitute for regular flour for this reason, and it also requires more liquid. There are however lots of great recipes out there, especially for cakes and breads….and why not use it to make a more-healthy-than-usual treat?!

As we were off to a friend’s birthday party around the time we bought the flour, and especially as that friend is wheat intolerant, we decided to bake her a birthday chocolate cake! We scoped out some recipes, and actually baked the cake a second time to perfect this recipe. I’m pretty pleased with it now though, and as it’s made up of ingredients we tend to always have in, I know that it will be a bit of a staple when a baking session is in order!

The texture of the cake is very even….nicely moist but also solid enough to comfortably eat a slice without necessarily needing a plate and fork. Initially it wasn’t sweet enough for me, which is why I tweaked the recipe….now though it is wonderfully velvety and chocolatey, not too sickly but also very satisfying. Especially when you consider it’s so quick and easy to make, plus low in carbs and naughty sugars!

Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake Recipe by Under A Glass Sky

Ingredients:

30g good quality cocoa
35g coconut flour (ours is made by Nutiva)
7g baking powder (gluten free if you’re gluten intolerant)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
4  free range eggs
3 tablespoons organic honey
3 tablespoons grade A maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60ml melted virgin coconut oil

For the icing:

approx. 5 tablespoons softened virgin coconut oil
approx. 3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
approx. 2 tablespoons organic honey
approx. 2 tablespoons grade A maple syrup

Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake Recipe by Under A Glass Sky

 How to make it:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 c and grease and line a 15cm diameter baking tin
  2. Mix together the cocoa (which you may need to sift), coconut flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt
  3. Fold in the eggs, honey, vanilla and oil
  4. Mix well until smooth….you will find it takes on an almost mousse-like texture
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean
  6. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack whilst you make the icing
  7. Combine the oil, cocoa, honey and maple syrup using a metal spoon
  8. Depending on the temperature (coconut oil has a very high melting temperature) you may find you want to add more oil or cocoa, and you can also add more honey or syrup to taste, depending on how sweet a tooth you have
  9. You can pop the icing in the fridge to cool it down if it’s too runny, or warm it up in the microwave for a few seconds if it’s too hard….then once you have it to a nice soft fudgey consistency, cut the cake in half horizontally and sandwich together the two parts with icing
  10. Then just use the rest of the icing to coat the assembled cake (it’s so quick and easy to make that you can always make a bit more if you run out), slice and enjoy!

Coconut Flour Chocolate Cake Recipe by Under A Glass Sky

I bet this cake would work wonderfully with some raspberries and creme fraiche or yoghurt, although we very much enjoyed it on its own. The icing is pretty handy to make a nice chocolate fudge sauce for ice cream or whatever too, as you can make it all runny and gooey by heating it up.

Next I plan to try a banana bread with the coconut flour….I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on!

Ems x

Meat Free Week

As you’ve probably seen on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere already, this week is Meat Free Week! The global campaign is challenging us all to give up meat for the week, to get us thinking about how much meat we eat, and the impact of that on our health, the environment and animal welfare. It’s not just about red meat (beef, lamb and pork), but all meat, including poultry, processed meat (like ham, bacon, salami and packaged sandwich meats), fish and seafood.

Going meat free for one week is a really positive step for anyone; The hope being that for the other 51 weeks of the year you’ll consider eating smaller portions or fewer meat-based meals as part of a balanced diet, and also ensure that the meat, fish, eggs or poultry you eat is ethically and sustainably produced. I’ve written about my feelings on meat-eating before, and because this means I eat very little meat (those ‘meat-free mondays’ actually work better in opposite in our house as we’re only really likely to eat meat once a week!) I suppose this week will be relatively easy for me.

And that’s why I thought I’d share a load of recipes to encourage you to take part, and to show you how easy it is to eat meat free….really well! I adore my food, and I love meat and fish and all the rest, but because I am now very picky about these (in terms of welfare mostly) the increased cost means that it’s more of a treat than a staple. I’m sure that this has benefitted my health which is of course a bonus too.

Anyway, for our main meal today (we have this at lunch time, with a lighter supper later) I made a super delicious dish that took only ten minutes and didn’t require any special ingredients at all (in fact, all stuff we had in the fridge already). I cut a courgette into small cubes, and finely chopped up a small white onion (both from our excellent organic veg box from a local farm), frying them both in a knob of butter until soft and golden.

I then whipped up a simple four cheese sauce, by melting another knob of butter in a pan and adding a small carton of organic single cream. I grated in some of the AMAZING smoked Mrs Kirkham’s Lanchashire I bought at a farm shop recently, some organic mature cheddar, organic parmesan, and a little left over goats cheese that needed using up. Once that was all nice and melty, I thickened with a little sauce flour and cooked some fresh gnocchi in a second pan. Then it was just a case of combining the veg, cheese sauce and gnocchi…serving it up and scoffing the lot! SO quick and easy…..very satisying….and of course, meat free!

Well hopefully that’s enough to whet your appetite, and perhaps you’d also like to try some of these recipes to enjoy a week of meat free meals…..

I hope that gives you some inspiration to go meat free for the week….if you’d like any more ideas or advice please do leave a comment as I’d love to encourage anyone to join in!

You can sign up to the campaign here….. Good luck, and enjoy!

Ems x

British Pie Week, and my regular Friday Pie-day!

I never needed an excuse to eat pie. I’ve loved pie since very young, and I have fond memories of burning my tongue on scalding hot pie filling erupting from freshly made Wrights Pies (a delicacy of my native Stoke on Trent!). My all time favourite dish my Mummy cooks is her incredible mince meat pie and onion gravy….one day I will perfect it!

But in case unlike me you need an excuse, or perhaps the humble pie isn’t something you often opt for (I won’t hold it against you, promise), you may be interested to hear that we are currently in the middle of British Pie Week! Conceived to share the pie love, promote this wonderful British dish and to show people new and wonderful recipes, Pie Week is a perfect time to indulge in something yummy and pastry-encrusted!

Now we have a bit of a tradition in our house…..Friday Pie-day! Whilst we sometimes swap out for Fish Friday, we very often like to scoff a home made pie on a Friday….a sort of ‘you made it through the week!’ treat, and a way to use up whatever ingredients we may have languishing at the back of the fridge to boot!

For me, pie is best served with a creamy mash, but gravy is an absolute MUST (another Potteries, or perhaps Midlands thing I think!). But beyond that, anything goes in my book! I often use up the end of a ham in a pie with cheese sauce and leeks….I adore a fish pie….and anything with a mashed potato topping is a grand idea as far as I’m concerned (cottage pie and shepherds pie feature heavily).

We’ve recently taken up a new organic vegetable box subscription though, from nearby St Helen’s Farm in Tadcaster, and so this week I’ve had some squash that I need to use up. I visited Fodder in Harrogate yesterday and came away with a log of Yellison Goats Cheese which is also made nearby in Skipton. So along with some other things I needed to use up, I made up a tasty pie filling in a rich tomato-based sauce.

It always feels quite rewarding to home-make a pie, but it’s really the easiest thing. I like making pies when we have guests as I can pre-prepare the filling, then clean up before finishing them off in the oven once our guests arrive.

For this pie I simply peeled and cubed the squash, and roasted it in the oven until soft. Then I fried up some onion and garlic, followed by sliced fennel and spring greens. Oh and some chick peas left over from a salad earlier in the week. Next I added a tin of chopped tomatoes (the fresh ones we got in our box are long gone!) to the whole lot, seasoned well and reduced slightly before spooning into pie dishes, crumbling in some of the cheese and topping with puff pastry. Lush!

Ems x

Foody Friday: Church Farm Ardeley and the Jolly Waggoner

A few months ago, on a drive into the countryside to visit friends, we passed Church Farm in Ardeley and our attention was grabbed….. a mixed, ecological farm, producing the widest range of meat, fruit and vegetables, Church Farm also serve fresh food from the farm at the Farm Butchery & Store, Farm Cafe and Jolly Waggoner Pub. We made a quick stop on our way back to explore the lovely little farm shop, buying up some amazing fresh eggs and other bits, and made a mental note to find out more about the place once back at home.

And we were so delighted we did! We soon discovered we could get a weekly delivery of vegetables from the farm and quickly placed our order….we now look forward to each delivery of amazingly fresh and carefully grown veg, not to mention cooking it and eating it! The produce tastes like things used to in my opinion….carrots have that wonderfully sweet and earthy fragrance, and cauliflowers have that great peppery taste. We used to have an Able and Cole box whilst we lived in London, but are finding the Church Farm box much more home-grown and honest, and it’s wonderful to know our food has barely travelled!

And it doesn’t end with the veggie stuff…. The free range livestock (and subsequent produce!) ticks all the boxes for us….They keep their animals in small extensive herds & flocks, using older slower growing traditional breeds to produce the best meat from healthy, happy animals. You can visit the animals to see for yourself, and the farm was set up with the advice and help of some of the UK’s foremost farm animal welfare experts.

“All the animals are kept extensively and allowed to mature before slaughter. All animals can and are seen everyday by our farmers, co-farmers, and visitors. Our mortality rates are very low and our animals live on average twice as long as those in more intensive farm systems. We have a fully qualified on-site vet and call upon the RVC/Westpoint vet partnership for support where needed. The only way we differ from the Soil Association husbandry guides for all species (the highest welfare standards in the UK) is that we buy local straw and silage feed from local farms which are not organic.”

Well how could we resist?! As a treat to ourselves then earlier this week, we visited the charming pub opposite the farm, The Jolly Waggoner, to sample some of the farm’s other produce. The menu totally spoiled us, with stacks of us-friendly meat choices, as well as several very tempting veggie options. Adam and I both opted for the lamb though, his Dad the fish and chips, and his Mum the pork belly. ALL the dishes were amazing! Our lamb was perfectly cooked and accompanied by delicious pommes Anna and a scrummy jus….the pork belly was laden with amazing crackling and the huge battered hake was just perfect.

Prone to temptation as we are, we all went on to relish a pudding of walnut cake with butterscotch sauce….this too was just to die for and left us all very jolly and contented indeed! They serve real ales too, with a selection of guest ales from local breweries, and the wine list is pretty impressive too. We are sure to be back in search of a Sunday Roast!

Church Farm also boasts a woodland play area, walking trails, tea rooms and a campsite! All in all, seriosuly worth a visit!

Ems x

Blog Every Day in May: What’s in your fridge?

“Describe and/or photograph what is in your fridge right now. Be honest!”

So my fridge contains all the usual things, organic butter, yoghurt and milk; free range eggs; leeks; charlotte carrots; half a butternut squash and some mixers….but rather than share a complete list of all those types of things, I thought I’d write about some of the more ‘special’ things that are in there.

We regularly buy fancy and posh jars of stuff from food festivals, markets and whatnot, and they inevitably hang around in the fridge for ages before we finally get around to finishing them. At the moment we have lots of really yummy jars in the fridge, including but not limited to….

Humbers Homemade Rosemary Jelly….this is made locally to us and you can buy it from local markets as well as delis. It’s lovely to cook sausages in or to serve with lamb!

We found the wonderful Pink’s range of chilli products at the Maltby Street Market whilst we still lived in London, and we just love their Green Chilli Jelly and Smoked Tomato Tapenade. They make great dips or sauces to cook fish with.

There are currently four full jars of Jules & Sharpie jams and jellies in the fridge….we discovered them at the local chilli festival last year and love the Hot Marmalade, Hot Apple & Sage Jelly, Hot Rhubarb & Ginger Jam, and Hot Lime & Green Pepper Jelly. These are lovely along with a cheese board.

Other regulars are Alfez Harissa (which I chuck into tagines and hot sauces) and Thai Taste Green Curry Paste which is a great base for a yummy curry. We also tend to keep in a few nice jams and marmalades, and currently still have a delicious Fig & Walnut Ball homemade by our friend Hannah.

Ems x

Blog Every Day in May: Food Glorious Food!

“Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!”

Whilst I was tempted to use this opportunity to share a recipe or restaurant recommendation, as I’ve been meaning to write about the way I eat for, like, ever, I thought I really ought to do just that! I touched on this yesterday in my Go Green post, but today I’m going to tell you all about my being (a rather ponsey sounding) Ethicurean.

I’ve always loved my food. I like to eat lots, eat well and then eat more. I used to be fussy as a child but my Mum did spoil me with really good home cooking (her roast dinners and pies are to die for!) but once I moved away from home I got to being more adventurous and now there’s hardly any type of food I won’t eat. If any. And Marmite isn’t a food by the way.

And whilst I toyed with the idea of vegetarianism as a teen, I’ve always happily enjoyed eating meat and animal products. Until about five years ago.

It was a TV show that changed my views on how I ate. Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Channel Four, and the associated Chicken Out campaign spearheaded by the marvelous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, offered an insight into the terrible standards in British chicken farming, and it alarmed me horribly. I very quickly decided that I would only eat free range chicken and free range eggs, as well as avoiding foods with eggs in (later it would become easier to find pasta which uses free range eggs, and when Hellman’s announced all their mayo was going to solely use free range eggs I think I cheered!). I was horrified how chickens were being treated, to get their eggs and to breed for their meat, and I just couldn’t stomach a meal that supported or encouraged that.

The following year there appeared another programme. Jamie was this time going to ‘Save our Bacon’ and in his TV show (also featuring the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) he revealed the desperately poor state of pig farming. I was beyond horrified this time. I remember crying and vowing never to eat meat again. I remember the cries and shrieks of pigs being pushed around between vile metal bars, and wondering how any person could do such a thing.

I very quickly went off my food entirely, and gave up meat altogether for a few months. I felt responsible for those poor suffering animals, and ashamed that I had supported an industry that could allow such abhorrent behaviour.

Once I’d had time to absorb all this though, I really did come to the decision that as a human being and born omnivore, I would like to try at eating meat again, and should be able to if I was mindful. Whilst the farming that I’d seen in the programmes disgusted me to the core, I knew that there were farms out there who care about their animals, and I wanted to support them. And at the end of the day, if we were all vegan there would be massive economic ramifications, not to mention a lack of lovely fields filled with sheep and cows and whatnot!

I knew though that if I was going to go back to eating animal products, that I had to be as sure as I possibly could be that I wasn’t eating any of those poorly treated animals. That meant an holistic approach…not just eating whatever free range meat I could find, but also being mindful of all the other animal products hiding in all manner of foods.

I personally don’t see the point in vegetarianism for this reason, unless you’re just veggie because you don’t *like* meat of course! I find pescetarianism even more baffling, not to mention people who call themselves vegetarian and eat fish! I know I won’t make any friends by being this opinionated, but I do feel very strongly about this….if you won’t eat meat because of the impact on animals and their environment, why will you eat animal products (I have known SO many veggies who will eat cheese with rennet, Worcestershire sauce, and sweets containing gelatin!!) that have probably come from just as bad a process of welfare, if not worse?! Loads of things contain animal products, and although it’s a bit of a minefield, I have certainly been able to adapt very well to this mantra.

The biggest impact it’s had is on the amount of meat I eat. Whilst I do believe humans should eat meat, I don’t believe we need it with every meal! A common excuse I hear for not eating more welfare conscious meat is ‘I can’t afford it.’ My simple answer is ‘eat less meat then’. I manage just fine on one or two meat meals a week (although sometimes less) and so having cut my meat bill in half, I can afford to spend twice as much on the meat I do buy. Simple! There are so many healthy, easy, quick and yummy dishes to make without using meat, so I just don’t buy that particular excuse!

Another big thing is eating out. Whilst ten years or so ago it was quite normal to be vegetarian, I rather feel that it’s gone out of fashion of late! I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve gone somewhere to eat out and been offered only one very poor vegetarian ‘choice’ (it’s not a choice if there’s only one!!). And often the veggie dishes are totally bland, not worth the money and incongruous with the rest of the menu…I feel like there ought to be a vegetarian and vegan module at catering college as most chefs clearly lack in imagination for such dishes!

And whilst you’d expect by now that lots of restaurants would have taken on board a free range and/or organic animal product policy, even the likes of Jamie Oliver himself seem reluctant to commit! (NB. I can find no evidence that Jamie’s Italian restaurants for example serve free range meat….I have contacted them though to check and will update when I get a response!)

The result of this is that we don’t often eat out, which is a shame as we’d like to support our local restaurants, but when my choices are limited so pitifully and I’m asked to subsidise meat eaters by paying the same for my curry with no meat in it as someone’s exact same curry but packed with lamb, I’m afraid I’d just rather eat at home!

Another thing that’s been tricky is actually knowing when a product meets my decided standards. I’ve spent hours researching all the criteria that give a product free range or organic status, and whilst I can rest relatively easy if something is marked as such, there are so many other confusing labels that it becomes a real pain! Most of our friends and family  know that we eat this way, but unfortunately they are very often taken in by the sneaky marketing the supermarkets have come up with to make people feel better about buying certain things, whilst still remaining competitively priced.

I am often told (when I ask politely in a restaurant if the dish is free range and/or organic) ‘yes, it’s British’. ‘Aaaand???’ I’ll say….that’s just where it comes from!!! Unfortunately ‘British’ doesn’t mean the same as free range or organic…and neither does ‘Freedom Foods’, ‘RSPCA Monitored’, ‘Red Tractor’, ‘Outdoor Bred’ or ‘Outdoor Reared’. And whilst Waitrose and Sainsburys are fairly good, just buying any meat from them doesn’t mean it’s free range either! I’m often unsure as to whether I’m more cross with people for being sucked in by these labels (if it was Organic, don’t you just think they’d call it that rather than coming up with a new name for it?!) or with the people who make them up to try and fool us. Either way, I would certainly welcome some legislation to stop this misleading rubbish!

Probably the best impact this has had on me though is my health. Too much meat isn’t good for you, and ensuring you have a well balanced diet (which I’m now more mindful of) is the best anyone can really be expected to do for themselves. Because I have to think about all animal products, I don’t eat a lot of processed food because I can’t be sure where the animal products in them come from, and we now eat organic dairy products to have the best chance of supporting the right kind of farming in that respect (it’s not all about meat!).

I now appreciate where all my food comes from, I’m knowledgeable about it and I care.

Now you’re either thinking ‘what a goody bloody two shoes’ about here, or ‘she can’t possibly stick to that!’ And you’re possibly right on either count….I do feel a bit smug that I put so much thought into my food, especially because I have given up things that I really love to eat (if someone opened an all free range KFC tomorrow I would eat nothing else for a month…don’t judge me!)….and I don’t want to mislead anyone by claiming that I am 100% virtuous. I do slip up from time to time, eating sweets offered to me without checking what’s in them, and allowing myself a little leeway when on holiday for example. I’m no Saint, but I do try bally hard!

I hope I’ve not come across as too aggressive in this…I’m aware this is not my usual happy post about bunting or glittery shoes…but I do feel extremely passionately about animal welfare and I’ve been very glad to have this push to finally get me to talk about it!

Now, at risk of tipping over the aggressive line, I’m going to share a video that I personally think it’s important for anyone who eats non-free range meat to watch, in order to understand where their food can come from. I can appreciate that this is very extreme and that it will more than likely upset people, but I just feel that one shouldn’t eat something they don’t know the possible origins of. Needless to say, this comes with a personal warning and I’d ask anyone particularly sensitive or anyone vegan not to watch it. I’m not sharing this because I want to upset anyone or preach to them. That said, I think it’s jolly important that such reports are made and that people are aware:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TFdHAnpTYI

Ems x

Vienna: Eats

Whilst I’ve never actually *chosen* a holiday destination based on the food I’d expect to get there, food is often the first thing that makes me fall in love with a place. And Vienna will certainly be remembered as one of my favourite cities for that very reason!

We were so impressed by the meals we had on our little city break there last October, whether it was in a traditional restaurant, a quirky canteen or from an outdoor vendor. The biggest benefit for us was that so much of the meat there is Organic…..Adam and I only eat free range meat, so eating out is often a bit tricky for us, although we do allow ourselves a little more freedom whilst on holidays. It wasn’t just the meat that impressed us though….everything we ate was of such high quality, served with a smile (not to mention a great deal of patience with my poor German-speaking-ordering!) and I’d definitely say the food was a highlight of our trip!

To that end, I thought I’d share with you some of the places we most enjoyed eating whilst in Vienna….I hope you’ll want to try them if you’re ever there!

One of our most memorable meals was the incredible lunch buffet at Brandauer’s Schlossbrau. A grand ‘beer hall’ (and huge beer garden in the warmer months!) set inside one of Vienna’s last Biedermeier dance halls, this place feels both fancy and informal, with dozens of tables all over the former dance floor and even on the old velvet-draped stage. There is a wonderful beer selection (I’m afraid I can’t remember which one I had, but it was the waitress’ recommendation and very yummy!) as well as an incredibly good value all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Never one to turn down such a challenge, I relished the chance to try all the different traditional Austrian dishes, and I would heartily recommend doing so yourself, especially for the bargainous price of €7.50 (Monday to Friday, 11:30am to 3pm). I devoured three plates full, including an amazing potato soup, sauerkraut, schnitzel and goulash. I can imagine it pays to get there early during the summer months, especially if you’d like a pretty table outside under a chestnut tree, but it’s certainly an excellent place to visit if you’re going to see the nearby Schloss Shonbrunn…..Get the U4 to Shonbrunn (just about half a dozen stops from Karlsplatz going towards Hutteldorf) and visit the Schloss in the morning, and then walk off your big lunch around the Schloss grounds, zoo and very good copy of Kew!

I love a foody market, so Vienna’s Naschmarkt was a must for our trip. The Borough Market sized treasure is a few minutes’ walk from the centre (about ten minutes from the opera house and just over the road from the stunning Secession gallery) and is crammed with cute wooden stalls bursting with fresh produce. There are a good few sit-in restaurants and cafes there, but you’ll possibly be even more tempted to buy up lots of treats from the various stalls.

And still on markets, I couldn’t resist raving about the famous Viennese Christmas markets, which provided me with some of my favourite meals during our trip! There are a number of wonderful traditional dishes available at the various Chistkindlmarkts, and all of the ones I tried were AMAZING! I adored the savoury Pretzels and Langos (huge deep fried bread smothered in garlic sauce), but most of all the incredible Kartoffelpuffer (a sort of giant hash brown brushed with a yummy garlic sauce). We also enjoyed some amazing sweet things, like Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits), Maroni (roasted chestnuts),  and the yummy marshmallow-filled pastry rolls (can’t remember the name, but it was like the Hungarian Chimney Cakes, only filled like a Tunnocks Tea Cake!) as well as several mugs of the glorious Gluhwein (mulled wine). The biggest market is the one in front of the Rathaus, but you’ll find Christkindlmarkts all over the city from November onwards.

Still outdoors, I just have to share in the joy of the amazing Bitzinger Wurstelstand. You can find this gem right behind the iconic Staatsoper opera house, just around the corner from the famous Cafe Sacher. Famous in its own right, this sausage stand is often frequented by smart businessmen on their way home, as well as glamourously dressed opera-goers, all yumming up the no-frills offerings. There’s a good range of different sausages, sauces, breads and sides, and I just loved standing at the tall table integrated into the stand, underneath their heat lamp. This is how fast food should be!

Lastly, and probably our best meal whilst in Vienna, I can’t recommend enough the delicious offerings at Shone Perle. It’s a bit of a jaunt out of the main hub (nearest U-bahn station is Taborstrasse on U2), but this all-orgainc canteen style Neo-Beisl serves the most amazing food and is well worth the trip. I chose the Wiener Schnitzel (massive favourite of mine) which came with yummy potato salad, whilst Adam had the incredible Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) which came along with a sort of giant potato rosti. Both dishes were accompanied with lovely sauces and sides, and we were delighted with the Austrian wines we chose too. I’d happily take the trip back here at the first chance….whilst the place isn’t fancy or terribly convenient to the main tourist attractions, I’d say you can’t beat it for quality and value.

Mahlzeit!

Ems x

How To Tuesday….. Coffee

I wouldn’t at all consider myself a coffee snob. I will even drink an instant coffee. But if I’m going to have a ‘proper’ coffee, I want to do it the best way possible.

I have one such coffee most mornings, and whilst I’d love one of those big flashy machines, I just don’t have the space nor the funds for such an extravagance. Similarly, although the street we live on is littered with hotels and sandwich shops, we’re not blessed with an amazing coffee shop amongst them. Nevertheless, and as usual, I persevere, and have found some jolly good ways of making a rather brilliant coffee with some simpler tools. And in case you’re not spoiled by a super duper in-home barista either, I thought I’d share….

At home….

I’ve tried many contraptions for making coffee at home. I was given a pretty good electric filter coffee maker as a house warming gift at my first student flat, but it was such a faff to set up and clean, and the results weren’t nearly good enough to be worth putting in the effort. And a plunger isn’t much better really, with all those faffy grinds to faff with. I’ve tried all the fancy instant ones too, and whilst I can enjoy one with plenty of milk in, I just can’t consider it part of the same family.

A little while ago though, we were gifted a very odd contraption, said to be the new best thing for making excellent coffee at home. The Aeropress is basically a plunger, which, instead of forcing the water through the coffee using a pushy bit of mesh, uses the vacuum it creates to more naturally force the water through. I had to reserve judgement on this seemingly crazy idea until we tried it…..but by golly it’s good! You get a much smoother flavour, no bitterness and no grittiness. It’s the closest I’ve ever had to those incredible coffees you get at Monmouth (more on that later), and as if that’s not enough, it’s incredibly easy to clean! Once you’ve plunged your coffee, you simply take off the little screw cap underneath and plunge a little further until a perfectly formed ‘puck’ of coffee pops out. No stray grinds, and no mess inside the chamber! It just needs a quick rinse really, although it can all go on the top shelf of the dishwasher if you like. Best of all though is the price. At around £20 to £25 I don’t think this gadget can be beaten, especially when you consider the quality of coffee it produces and the tiny amount of space it takes up. You get 300 of the little filters it takes included, which you can actually rinse and re-use if you can be bothered, but they are only £3.70 for a further 350.

There are several techniques being bandied about, as opposed to the simple operating instructions you get on the box. Whilst I’ve not been bothered to try all the crazy upside down ones etc. I would recommend this one….

  • Pop the filter into the screw on base, and attach to the main chamber
  • Place three scoops of well ground but not super-fine coffee into the chamber
  • Boil the kettle
  • Once it’s boiled, take off the heat and allow it to sit whilst you heat 150ml of milk in a jug in the microwave for one minute
  • Remove the jug and place the Aeropress over it securely
  • Pour over just enough hot water to cover the coffee and give it a gentle stir
  • Then pour over enough water to take it all to the number 4 marker
  • Stir for ten seconds, then plunge
  • Quickly warm up your cups with a little of the left over hot water from the kettle, pour that away, and then pour in your delicious milky coffee

Lush!

Aerobie AeroPress, around £25

At the office…..

Now if you can be bothered, and you don’t mind being asked each day about your odd contraption by your colleagues, there’s no reason you can’t use another Aeropress at work. But, even simpler and more convenient is the cup-top ‘cone’ dripper. You can buy these for just a few pounds in either plastic or ceramic, both work just as well. You’ll need a regular cone type filter, which you place into the dripper then fill with coffee before pouring over your hot water…..your coffee will slowly drip into the cup below, ready to add milk or whatever.

It’s fair to say it takes a little while longer than the Aeropress and the quality of the coffee quite isn’t as good. But, it’s just as easy to clean (just pop the filter paper and it’s contents into the bin then rinse the dripper) and there aren’t as many parts to misplace! It’ll also take up even less space. Not a bad bit of kit really. We also have an over-pot version of the dripper which is great for dinner parties…it makes lots all at once and you can just leave it to drip whilst entertaining, then remove the filter top to serve.

Cup top coffee ‘cone’ filter, around £5 to £15

When Camping….

I always felt well sophisticated making proper coffee whilst camping. In fact, I consider myself a pretty savvy camper and have comfort and practicality down to a tee. When camping in Italy though, I had to be a bit less smug, because EVERYONE on our campsite had this little routine going each morning!….

The little stove top espresso maker by Bialetti is a brilliant piece of camping kit. It’ll sit nicely on even the tiniest camp stove (I use the brilliant and super compact Coleman Cricket) and you can be the envy of your temporary neighbours as you brew up an amazing smelling brew each morning.

It’s a little pricey, comparatively, but mine has lasted me many years already and is still in tip top nick. All you do is pour your water into the base, place the little coffee cradle on top and fill with coffee, screw on the top, and heat…. The water will rise up into the upper chamber as it hots up, taking the filtered coffee with it. Magic!

Bialetti Moka Exoress, 3 cup, from around £25

When out and about….

Now whilst I understand that going out for a coffee is not just about the coffee (I could while away many an hour in almost any place with nice decor, a good atmosphere and some quality cake), if you’re after a really good coffee away from home, I’m yet to find anywhere outside Italy that makes it better than Monmouth.

When I worked at Shakespeare’s Globe and passed through Borough Market twice a day whilst traveling to and from work, it was my little treat to myself to pop into the Park Street shop for a take away latte. Even now, if I’m anywhere near the place, or their Covent Garden shop, I have to dive in for a fix of what is probably the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The experts at Monmouth roast their own coffee, traveling extensively throughout the year to visit the producers and cooperatives with whom they work, as well as to look for interesting varietals of coffee and new farms from which to buy. For every producer they work with, they seek to learn more about the coffee they grow and process and the challenges that they face, looking to establish a relationship with the grower and exporter. Core to their method is their sustainable, fair and equal trade…..as well as the most wonderful selection of high quality coffees you could hope for!

For me though, it’s not just the coffee itself which is vital…..each member of staff there have an incredible wealth of knowledge, and not only are they excited to recommend and explain all the different varieties to you, they are expert in making it too. The result is the creamiest, most luxurious cup of coffee I’ve ever encountered, and whilst I wouldn’t sully it with even a spoon of their rather fancy cane sugar, it tastes almost sweet. No matter what beans I use, or what method I try, I’ve never been able to replicate that flavour and texture, and nor has anywhere else I’ve bought a cup.

You can sit in at their shops, and enjoy cakes, breads and pastries from their fine selection (I always loved their big sharing table on which you’ll find hunks of bread and lashing of butter and preserves), but even if you want to take out…expect to queue! During the morning commute, and on a weekend, the queue can stretch well into the streets outside the shops. But it is very much worth it, even if you come back later when there’s a lull. It’s all reasonably priced too….you won’t find a Starbucks-esque bucket sized cup, but I’d pay as much as one of those for a little cup of Monmouth any day!

(I can’t not mention another couple of London favourites too though….. Wild and Wood in Holborn actually serve Monmouth coffee in their delightfully charming little cafe, which is filled with cute mis-matched furniture and black & white photos from Carry On films….. and You Don’t Bring me Flowers in Hither Green is a darling little flower shop cafe, filled with vintage treasures and serving a wonderful flat white!)

Monmouth Street Monmouth Shop, Covent Garden

Spilling the beans…..

One way to jump the queue is to buy beans from Monmouth. At the front of the Borough Market shop is a counter filled with all types of beans, and you can consult with one of the expert staff and even have a little taste before buying. It’s not as cheap as a packet of even the best supermarket beans, but again I’d pay the extra just for the quality difference. If you go up to the bean buying counter (where there’s hardly ever a queue) you can purchase your beans by the gram, and you can order a coffee to go too, without having to join the main queue.

I’ve tried all manor of beans from all over, and whilst many warrant a mention (Nude Espresso at Brick Lane and Soho Square, Union hand roasted coffees, Cafe Direct’s Machu Pichu beans, and Sainsbury’s So Organic, Fairtrade Papa New Guinea Beans) non come up to the standard of Monmouth. With beans for every taste from all over the world, including organic varieties, I just don’t think there’s anywhere better. AND you don’t even need to live nearby to buy them now….they offer a mail order service on their beans, so you can enjoy them from anywhere!

And now, some Rules…..

  1. Buy the best beans you can. In my opinion it’s better to to have quality over quantity, so I’d rather buy less coffee but better coffee! Buying from a proper roaster means you know it’s not been on a shelf for ages losing its flavour, and they can advise you too on the right coffee to buy for your taste.
  2. Use it fast! Even the freshest roasted coffees have started to deteriorate as soon as they’ve been roasted. Buy in beans, which last longer, and only buy as much as you’ll get through in a couple of weeks.
  3. As with most things, extreme temperatures and the air can make coffee deteriorate faster. Keep your beans in an air-tight container (we find a kilner jar good) and at room temperature…keeping them in the fridge can mean they’re subject to other flavours creeping in from the other contents, and the quick change in temperature when you come to make it will diminish the flavour.
  4. Burr mills are widely recognised to grind the beans best, but the less expensive electric grinders are fine if you’re careful to rock the grinder gently as you use it to ensure even grinding (and don’t over-grind!).
  5. Never make coffee with boiling water! The proper brewing temperature is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. Also bear in mind that reheating or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn your coffee bitter.
  6. Keep all your coffee making equipment clean, including containers. The oils which come from the coffee can cling onto anything, and of course they deteriorate as much as the coffee itself, and can contaminate any fresh coffee that comes into contact with them. So ensure you clean out even your containers every couple of weeks.

Well, I hope that little lot helps you enjoy a better cup of coffee at home and away! As ever, I’d love to hear any other tips you have, and do share any wonderful places you’ve had coffee!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…. A super day out in East London

After a tip off by Domestic Sluttery, the boyf and I decided to head out East on Saturday morning, and to the floating market on the Regent’s Canal in Mile End Park. I CAN’T BELIEVE I’ve never taken a stroll along the canal before…. I’ve been meaning to for ages, and I was so glad we did.

We hopped on a bus to get us down to the canal, and had a little bit of a wander in the wrong direction before getting on the right track. We didn’t mind at all though, as we were just so excited by the lovely environment around us….there were dozens of dragonflies and mayflies over the water, some huge fish, and lots of pretty flowers and plants along the water edge.

Finally heading in the right direction, we strolled along just soaking up the tranquility until we came across the Art Pavilion, which was showing Philip Pinchin‘s ‘Sleeping India’ exhibition. The photos are nearly all black and white and show some of the most diverse aspects of the country, as well as how it’s such common nature to take a nap right out in public. Adam found himself wanting to go back to India badly, recalling memories from his trips there, whilst I was reminded how much I want to go for the first time.

The Art Pavilion itself is a wonderful place, so bright and open, and surrounded by gorgeous ponds and gardens….

Just a little wander further and we found the Floating Market. Set up along the towpath are around a dozen narrow boats, all with something wonderful to share…. there are cafes, a hat emporium, jewellery shops, a bookshop, and artists…. in fact, plenty to while away an afternoon with. It’s been set up to coincide with the games and will move on to Little Venice in West London for the Paralympic Games. The towpath itself is an official Olympic walking and cycling route, and nearby Victoria Park is one of the official Live Sites showing highlight from the Games on big screens, so there’s quite a buzz there!

We took our ease for a while, at a little picnic table with a cute umbrella outside Rawlings cafe. With a generous mug of tea each we took on two of their wheat and dairy free cakes….. the sweet potato muffin was super gooey, and the banana loaf just divine. We also enjoyed the company of Jasper, a friendly dog who hangs out at the cafe. He was lovely.

Next we explored the floating bookshop, which was especially great because we got to go onboard! It’s filled with shelf upon shelf of second hand books of all sorts, and also has a beautiful tortoiseshell cat! There are more racks of books on the outside too, but I loved being on board and finding all the goodies stowed away so cleverly and tidily.

Further along we found the Chapeau Bateau, where there are stacks of lovely hats, as well as some ace 70s style sun glasses. After that, we found the Print Galley, where a suitcase full of old cameras caught my eye….. we ended up chatting to the shop keeper about lots of them, including a couple of awesome Super8 cameras and an incredible medium format camera. Elizabeth Hayley is a print maker and photographer, and is currently selling some of her work at the market. I immediately fell for her dreamy images, all of which have such amazing texture and luminosity.

By this time, we were practically at Victoria Park, and wanting to continue our stroll we decided to make our way to the World in London exhibition there. We entered the park via the Rose Gates, whereupon we found the most stunning roses I think either of us has ever seen. Each one seemed so perfectly formed and alike, and almost as though they were made from fine silk or tissue. Just gorgeous!

In our efforts to find the exhibition, we ended up wandering around the whole South side of the park, not realising that there is a much bigger end to the park over the road! It was gorgeous just to snoop about though, and the place smelled just amazing with all the beautiful flowers about. On our wanderings, we found the Pavilion Cafe, and got terribly excited as we learned that all the ingredients are ‘us friendly’, meaning everything is free range and organic! That was enough to remind us it was lunch time, and we chose seats overlooking the huge pond after ordering kippers with poached egg and potato cake (for me), and Eggs Benedict (for Adam). Both arrived in no time and were exceptionally good. The portions are a great size, and very good value I think (about £7 for each dish), and we enjoyed a really yummy iced coffee there too.

We will definitely be back to sample more of the menu…they have a wonderful sounding Full English Breakfast, and a yummy looking burger I want to try! It’s just such a glorious place to sit and eat when the sun is shining…there’s so much going on in the park so it’s really buzzing, but overlooking the water makes it seem tranquil at the same time.

For pudding Adam bought an ice cream from the van behind the Pavilion (I opted to steel the top off it rather than having a a whole one, having scoffed the cake earlier). It seemed that our summer had finally arrived as we walked through the balmy park with an ice cream!

Eventually we found the World in London exhibition, which is actually posted on the exterior wall to the BT London Live event which is showing parts of the games on big screens. An outdoor display of over 200 portraits blown up on large, glossy boards, it showcases a collection put together by the Photographers Gallery over the last three years. Coinciding with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the project was created to show images of Londoners of all ages and walks of life, each originating from one of the competing nations. The photos are arranged alphabetically by country along one long wall, and are also being shown in Park House…. you can actually see all the images online too, here.

Despite having said we weren’t going to do too much over the weekend, we were having such a jolly time that we couldn’t bear to end our day of adventure. So, from the park we walked along to Bethnal Green, and on from there to Brick Lane. It was perhaps the quietest I’ve ever seen it, and at least in many years….I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be indoors on such a lush day, but I guess lots of people wanted to watch some of the Olympics events. I rather enjoyed being able to wander about in a more civilised way than usual though, and took in several of the little markets I love.

The Tea Rooms market is one of my favourites, and is filled with all kinds of lovely treasure….. there is an incredible stall selling loads and loads of beautiful vintage china and crystal decanters…. a cake stall…. loads of bric-a-brac and nick nacks…. and a wonderful collection of old cameras.

After a pootle about some of the other markets along Brick Lane, we headed to Old Spitalfields Market, although by then lots of stall holders were packing up. We zipped around though and took time to stop and take some photos of Adam with some of those crazy mascot things….

Then, pretty tired and with rather achey feet, we made our way home for cups of tea and a light (ish) supper of wholemeal penne with roasted butternut squash, pepper and broccoli. What an amazing day!

Hope you enjoyed a sunny Saturday!

Ems x

My pick of the best…. hand creams

I think it’s fair to say that most women keep a tube or tub of hand cream on hand at all times, whether buried in their handbag or on their desk. I am certainly no exception, and in fact I think I’m probably a little obsessed by the stuff. If there’s a dispenser of good quality hand cream in the loos at a restaurant or bar, I never leave without sampling some, and I keep a well stocked selection about my person at all times.

It is actually one of the most important products you can have in your beauty bag…… Hands can become dry for for so many reasons (weather, the environment, air conditioning,washing up, for example) so it is well worth investing in a good quality product that suits you well. I have awful nails (I’ve tried jelly, supplements, the lot) so I can’t feel guilty for indulging this way, and to share a little in my obsession (and my belief that everyone should have some decent hand cream) I thought I’d show you my favourites, and the ones I’d most highly recommend……

If a delicious scent is your highest priority when purchasing a hand cream, I don’t think that Weleda’s Sea Buckthorn hand cream can be beaten. I treid this long before I ate Sea Buckthorn for the first time, so I wasn’t familiar with it’s scent, and rather thought it was just a fancy word for citrus. And it is super orangey-lemony, as well as melting in beautifully. Rich in vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids, the sea buckthorn and sesame oils it contains give an intense moisture boost, plumping and soothing cells to repair tired and damaged skin.  It’s a steal in my opinon at just £7.95 and a great size to keep in your handbag too. The matching body oil and lotions are also amazing, and everything is natural and cruelty free to boot.

Crabtree & Evelyn’s delicate Rosewater Hand Therapy is my favourite to keep on my desk. It has a handy (giggle) pump action dispenser, and the scent is beautifully subtle. It melts in well and is said to improve your skin’s barrier function to reduce moisture loss with its shea butter and ceramides. It also contains myrrh extract which is proven to condition nails. It’s not badly priced at £20 for 250g either, although it does feel a bit of a luxury.

And speaking of luxury…. I adore all of the Cowshed Spa products. They are a bit pricey, but well worth it. The ‘Knackered Cow’ body lotion is my favourite, which I use a small pot of as hand cream in my rucksack. It has an utterly dream scent which I’m always getting compliments on….. the lavender soothes and relaxes, whilst the eucalyptus clarifies and cleanses. The texture is beautifully milky, plenty thick enough to feel dead luxurious, but melts in perfectly. It’s £18 for 300ml, which I think is great value for its spelndidness.

This one’s pretty new on me, but I’m loving it already. I found out about Emu Oil whilst looking for something to help out my poor peeling nails. I’d heard that Almond Oil is by far the best thing to moisturise nails, and Emu Oil came up in a search for hand creams which contain it. The Cream contains three of the best natural moisturisers: Emu Oil (which penetrates all layers of the skin, transporting oils with it), Jojoba (known for its moisturising, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties) and Sweet Almond Oil (beneficial for cracked and painful cuticles). It has no real scent, but a gorgeous lemon-posset like texture. And because it’s made from all natural ingredients and contains no artificial colour or fragrance, it’s deeply soothing and hypoallergenic.

£28.00 code:733215N 150ml

I adore everything about Penhaligon’s…. their quaint, almost Victorian stores…. their beautiful, traditional packaging….. and their classic scents. Their hand and body creams are a real treat too, and come in the most gorgeous scents. I adore their Lily of the Valley and Malabah fragrances (the former for spring and summer with its head notes of bergamot, lemon and geranium…. the latter for the colder months with its heart notes of Ginger, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Rose and Orris), and I love that I can get matching products too. Their hand and body creams contain aloe vera, shea butter, cocoa seed butter and sweet almond oil, so they’re great for deeply moisturising the skin, as well as making them smell delicious. It’s £28 for a 150ml tube, so it’s a bit of a special treat really, but they also do a Hand and Nail Lotion in their Lavandula and Quercus fragrances, which comes in a 300ml pump bottle at £19 and is great for keeping on your desk.

My biggest reccomendation, and probably ‘the winner’ though has to be Duchy Originals Organic Moisturising Fig, Honey & Almond hand lotion. At £5.10 for a 250ml pump bottle, it’s amazing value, so there’s nothing to stop you lathering it on. It smells gorgeous and luxurious, and the texture is spot on (the perfect mixture of oil rich, thick and creamy, and easily melted in). As well as almond oil to help keep your nails super healthy, it contains soothing aloe vera and avocado oil, mega moisturising cacao seed butter, and everything is organic which will leave you feeling ever so virtuous. It’s rich enough that you only need a dab at a time really, so it lasts ages, making it even better value. Can’t recommend this one enough!
Ems x