Motherlovin’ Croque Monsieurs

I took some bread and toasted it. Then I fried one side of half of it in butter.


Then, fried side down, I spread it with some bechamel sauce. Then a layer of gruyere, then ham, then more gruyere. Then the other slice of toasted bread, followed by more bechamel and more gruyere.


Into the oven for ten minutes and boom, motherlovin’ croques.


To finish it off, a bottle of Smokey And The Band Aid, the second in Buxton’s special reserve series. It’s an imperial smoked rye porter, but considering the hype (and the gorgeous label) I wasn’t terribly impressed. It poured completely flat and despite a fairly powerful nose with lots of peaty malt, the body just wasn’t there to back up the promise. The roasted, slightly nutty flavour went pretty well with the croque though, matching well with the nutty cheese and toasty brown sourdough goodness.


Seriously though, there is no better combination of bread, cheese and ham on the planet. Crunchy and gooey, salty and nutty and redolent of Paris, even when you’re actually watching old episodes of Doctor Who on the sofa.


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Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

Happy Birthday Caroline!

I made these chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips and chocolate fudge frosting for you, and then gave them to Mojo and North. They have silver balls and sprinkles, and taste like birthday parties. Next time I’ll let you blow out the candles, it was sad doing it myself.

Love, hugs, and kisses always.

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Paris is always a good idea.

Our summer holidays this year were spent in Paris, because why not? Well, apart from the cost, and the heat, and the fact that I have been promising my husband a holiday in Berlin for years now. I love Paris, so that’s where we went. Everything I love most in life – butter, things made with butter, wine – is so much better in French.

We saw the Robert Crumb exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, the Richter exhibition at the Pompidou, I ate Berthillon ice cream on the banks of the Seine and tried to find a free set of chairs in the shade in the Jardin de Luxembourg. We walked so far every day we all got blisters and I came home a few pounds heavier rather than a few stone. I had a proper buckwheat galette for the first time and I managed to accidentally order raw fish, probably not for the first time. My far more cultured holiday companions took me to galleries and I took them to Fauchon and Angelina’s. We drank in some excellent bars and because there was no-one to judge me I ordered strawberry margaritas and so much Côtes de Provence rosé wine, sometimes accompanied by a midnight snack of nutella crepes.

On our last day I took Mr Cute on a tour of a few of the famous patisseries of the Left Bank, which he later admitted he enjoyed much more than he thought he would. Especially once we got back to the flat and ate all our souvenirs.

First up was Sadaharu Aoki, who blends French techniques with Japanese flavours like matcha, black sesame and ume to great effect. Apparently his pastries, particularly his Napoleon, are among the best in France but the weather was so blindingly hot that we didn’t think they would last the afternoon. After several minutes of deliberation while being observed disapprovingly by an impossibly beautiful sales assistant, we settled on two macarons, one flavoured with wasabi and the other with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit similar to lemon. Both were fantastic, although somewhat crushed by the time we ate them. The wasabi in particular elicited lots of interested faces, although I can’t stand anything wasabi-related so didn’t partake in that one.

On the way to the next stop we passed the Jean-Charles Rochoux chocolate shop. I’m not sure if I mentioned the heat yet, but some of the incredibly intricate chocolate sculptures in the window were actually starting to melt, including a smooshed cat that looked like it had been run over. I didn’t think any chocolate would last until the end of the street, let alone the end of the day, so I didn’t even go in for fear of accidentally buying a box of truffles I would have to eat immediately. I am including this mostly for the picture I took outside, in which you can almost see in the far left my favourite piece in the display, a hand sculpted chocolate male torso. Oh yeah. Apparently this is a funny joke as abs are not called ‘six packs’ in France but rather ‘tablets of chocolate’.  Never say the French don’t have a sense of humour.

On to Le Bon Marché, in which we spent far too long, partly because we got lost in the women’s fashion department (I had to keep reminding Mr Cute not to touch anything, and to stop exclaiming when he saw the prices; he’s terribly uncouth), and partly because it was air conditioned. Sweet sweet air conditioning. The patisserie stand here was good, but completely over shadowed by things like pasta in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and the biggest, best butchers I have ever seen. Feel free to think I’m psychotic after this, but raw meat makes me salivate. We picked up a few gifts for people back home here, including some Angelina chocolate flavoured tea, which I am happy to report is actually really nice. La Grande Epicerie is basically the food hall of my dreams, and the supermarket of choice for when I finally win the lottery.

Next on the map was Poilâne, which is one of the most famous boulangeries in France. They make these incredible sourdoughs, which you can see at the top right of the photo below. They’re bigger than my head, and we neither had time to eat one or space in the suitcase to bring it back. The huge apple tarts looked wonderful too, and interestingly far more rustic than anything else we saw in Paris. We picked up a tiny box of punitions here, which are perfect little rounds of thin, buttery shortbread-like biscuit. I predict, though cannot confirm, that they would make excellent ice cream sandwiches. If anyone has tried that, get back to me!

A little further on was Pierre Hermé, whom I love unreservedly. Last time I got one of his famous Ispahan, a rose, raspberry and lychee flavoured macaron. This time I was very tempted by the Yasamine, with jasmine tea, mango and grapefruit, but in the end I chose a Montebello, a pistachio dacquoise with a creamy pistachio mousse and fresh raspberries. Such a simple combination of flavours (compared to his seasonal specials such as lemon and caramelised fennel), but executed so perfectly. The dacquoise was crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft inside in a way that was both feather-light and also comfortingly squidgy. The mousseline was silky and the raspberries bursting and fresh. Neither pistachios nor raspberries are terribly sweet so the flavours in the end are very delicate, with the dusky bitterness of the pistachios playing well with the slightly tart raspberries. Fundamentally this wouldn’t be too difficult to replicate at home either, maybe in the form of a jacked up pavlova-like affair. I’ll have to wait till next summer for the good fruit, but watch this space.

So much cake and nothing savoury. Next on my list was Eric Kayser, who makes awesome bread. I was a bit out of it when we got here, and all my French suddenly abandoned me, so I can’t tell you much about the shop itself. The man behind the counter was very  patient, and the ‘rustique’ loaf, which is made with buckwheat flour and natural leaven, was fantastic and went very well with lots of butter, some aged comté and a poultry liver terrine with madeira wine we got from Fauchon earlier in the week. Actually, ‘went very well’ is some kind of bullshit understatement. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. This photo is also proof that I once wore shorts.

Last was one of the true greats, Ladurée. I never made it here on my last trip so I was beyond excited to finally visit, and they didn’t disappoint. The place was full of tourists, predictably, and because I couldn’t choose we ended up with a lime and basil macaron and a raspberry and rose religieuse (though I was tempted by a cassis and violet one in a lurid shade of purple). The macaron was a tiny revelation – basil in sweet things! – but the religieuse was my favourite. It’s basically a big profiterole with a smaller one on top, which is supposed to resemble a nun’s habit. This one was filled with rose crème patissière and fresh raspberries, and topped with rose fondant. My husband wants to point out that the sheer volume of rosy custard made it very difficult to cut into four equal pieces, but I’m not going to mark it down for that. In fact, that’s a plus in my book. I basically inhaled it, so the subtle complexities were probably lost on me but it was awesome. Even now every time I think of it I get lost in a sweet, gooey reverie.

Special mention should also go to Coquelicot next to the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre. This was where we got breakfast most days and judging by the length of the queues we were far from the first to find it. If you’re ever in the area and need lunch they have the best croque monsieurs I have ever tasted. I also had a pain au chocolate that was the size of an A5 notebook and made almost entirely of butter and chocolate, held together by force of will.

Sorry for the lack of any photos of the actual cakes, but I was scraping up the remnants of crème patissière on my plate with a sticky finger before I realised that might have been a good idea. I leave you with a photo of a less organised shopping trip, that resulted in a bottle of Pouilly Fumé, a Côtes du Rhone Villages, a commemorative bottle of Chartreuse, a Paris Carette (almond and hazelnut pastry deliciousness), an Opera and a raspberry thing (both from Dalloyau), a strawberry millefuille and the requisite baguette from Coqueliquot. That was a particularly good night.


I found all of these through David Lebovitz’s Paris Pastry app. It’s a little buggy and had a frustrating tendency to crash at the least opportune moment but I really couldn’t have done without it. All David’s favourite places (over 300) are listed, with maps, opening times and tips. Most certainly worth the money.

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Things I have not written about.

I haven’t been around here much recently, have I? This post was first written in March, hence the out of date references. I keep sitting down to the computer, idea in head, ready to smash out a Pulitzer quality post. Two hours later I have half a paragraph and I’ve been watching Countryfile so late at night they have the lady signing at the bottom of the screen. I love Countryfile. The other night I learned about why red deer are being culled in Scotland, biodiversity in lowland bogs in the New Forest, and watched a lady get muddy on a bike. It’s hypnotic, and always makes me rethink my sedentary urban lifestyle. Then I remember that I hate being cold and wet, and creepy crawlies give me the wiggins. The countryside is pretty awesome, but probably not for me.

Anyway, here are a bunch of things I tried to write about and failed miserably.

Open It!

Open It! is a beer bloggers’ event that aims to stop people from hoarding ‘special’ bottles for years waiting for a special occasion, only to find they’ve gone off. Effectively it’s a big piss up. Although I didn’t join in with the bloggers’ dinner I did meet up with them later, and hoo boy did we have a good time. Most of the bottles were imperial stouts and barleywines, as they are the ones that age well. There were a few lambics and gueuzes in there too, and I took along a bought-specially bottle of saison. Not quite keeping with the theme of the event, but I find it impossible to keep beers in my flat longer than a month. Almost all these beers were very strong and worth at least £10, and some were worth several times that. Which means that swigging straight from the bottle and declaring “it tastes like beer!” were both inevitable and completely absurd. By the end of the night I had such palate fatigue all I wanted was a glass of diet coke to calm me down.

Food I ate that was good

There was the peach and redcurrant cobbler, the greengage and cumin frangipan tart, my sister-in-law’s amazing ratatouille, a meal I had at J Baker’s in York, bacon jam, an amazing chocolate mousse birthday cake, the entire Leeds Loves Food festival, and countless other great meals that I did not photograph because I was too busy eating them.

Louis CK

A few months ago there was a bit of a kerfuffle about Louis CK’s tweets about Sarah Palin and his subsequent suitability for a fancy-pants political dinner. I wanted to talk about how as bleeding heart liberals we have to hold our own to the same standards we hold the people we rail againt. If Rush Limbaugh isn’t allowed to make disgusting, sexist and homophobic comments in the name of ‘entertainment’, then beloved comedians like Louis can’t either. In his standup Louis talks about why he uses words like faggot and cunt, then proceeds to call his own infant daughter an asshole. Many times. I’m not going to get in to whether or not he’s funny as that’s personal taste (though, if you don’t think he’s funny you are obviously wrong), but I think it’s important that as part of his set he explains what he means by faggot and cunt, and why he uses them. If you have that context it’s difficult to be offended by what he says, but without it he just sounds like, well, a cunt. Twitter doesn’t provide context, and isn’t just visible to people who paid for a ticket. He was drunk and angry, but that’s not an excuse. He’s incredibly smart and funny and a big supporter of gay rights, but that doesn’t give him a free pass. We might forgive him more easily for a lapse in judgement, but why should anybody else? I hate it as much as anyone else when someone I admire does something dumb, but unless we all keep trying to be better how will we maintain our lovely higher moral ground? I like the higher moral ground thank you very much.

The most sexist alcohol adverts

I probably will do this at some point. Suffice to say most women are not so dumb we need characters on our booze bottles in order to identify them.

Low alcohol wine

I’ll probably rant about this in the future too. It’s not wine! It encourages teenagers to drink! It fosters unhealthy attitudes to alcohol! It’s just a marketing ploy! It tastes fucking hideous! And so on.

Todd Akin and related douchebaggery

What the ever loving fuck? Seriously. My body does not have a way to “shut that whole thing down” when raped any more than a mouse can “shut that whole thing down” when a cat is trying to eat it. American politics horrifies me, both as a woman and a person with a soul. I probably won’t write about this any time soon because it is too emotionally draining, and I am too busy being shocked that we still have to argue about this.

The Dark Knight Rises

Do you need another review of the last Nolan Batman film? Thought not. Other films I’ve seen recently that deserve but do not need a review: Rushmore (I know, I’m a bit late to that one), Amazing Spiderman, Moonrise Kingdom (are you sensing a theme?), the second Sherlock Holmes (so boring I can’t even remember the name of it), The Hunger Games and Showgirls. God, I love Showgirls.

The horror of house hunting

Mr Cute and I are trying to move out of the city centre into the area in which we would like to buy a house in a few years, and it sucks. This post was just going to be a massive whine about how it isn’t fair, and I deserve a nice place to live and why is the rent always so damn high? I will spare you this, though if you know me in ‘real life’ no doubt you’ve already heard it. The ‘why won’t my hair just behave like a normal person’s hair?!’ blog would have been quite similar.

The awesome beer I had this week

A few years ago Duvel Moortgat bought Liefmans and subsequently stopped making Liefmans Frambozen. Which was a shame, because it was a great beer. Guess what we found in the cellar of the shop a few weeks back? Yup, probably one of the last remaining bottles of Frambozen in the country. I know at least one person I could have sold it to and made a nice little profit, but instead I invited a friend over and shared it with him over a dessert of vanilla ice cream with warm blackberry sauce and crushed pistachios. It was brilliant. Dark, barely sweet and that couple of years of aging had given it a depth and complexity I don’t remember in the fresh beer. A great match for pudding but I think it would have gone well with some goats’ cheese too, or even a steak.

So, those are the blogs you could have won. Stay tuned for a tour of Parisian patisseries.

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Local beer for local people

Last week a whole bunch of beer blogs were talking about why local beer is, or isn’t, ‘better’. I thought I’d chime in, albeit a few days late.

Local beer, made by independent local breweries and maybe even using local ingredients, is not necessarily better. Some of the best beer in the world comes from Belgium, Germany, the USA and countries less easily associated with brewing. There’s some bloody brilliant stuff coming out of Norway and Japan, for example. Both ‘beer’ and ‘better’ have pretty broad definitions and it would be reductionist to claim that one element makes all beer better. Similarly, organic beer is not always better, nor is beer made by unionised workers. Furthermore, the ingredients are rarely grown in the same locality, and most beer travels reasonably well. A tomato from your garden will be immeasurably better than one flown in from Spain, but beer makes it all the way across the Atlantic without any ill effects.

Local beer is more valuable though. Local independent businesses, be they breweries, bars or shops (hi!) keep jobs and money in the local economy. If we extrapolate US statistics then for every £100 spent at a local business £68 stays in our community, as opposed to only £43 if the same money is spent at a national business. Every time you buy a beer that’s been made in your town you are helping someone in your community keep their job, which in turn means they can put their money back into other local businesses, including yours. According to articles that never state their damn sources, independent businesses are also more likely to pay higher wages and donate more to charity, which means lots of money going to good places.

Local breweries are also in a great position to keep traditions alive. While it’s exciting to see how beers like IPAs have been transformed by American brewers, most British beer geeks get a great deal of pride knowing that we invented it. Just like every Yorkshire person I know is proud of parkin and Yorkshire pudding. I’m proud of our rhubarb too, but that seems to be more of a quirk than characteristic. Lots of local breweries have a long heritage, for example the family that owns Black Sheep has been brewing near Masham for six generations and still uses the Yorkshire Square fermenting system that dates back 200 years. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? I’d hate to see that become nothing more than a museum exhibit.

Not all of our local breweries are traditional of course, that would be boring. I’ve mentioned Magic Rock before and I’ll link to a few more at the end of the post, but there are loads of Yorkshire breweries pushing the boundaries and making exciting beer. Without our support they will fail, no matter how good the beer is. Breweries can’t afford to take risks unless they know someone will buy the end product, and unless they know they have a loyal local customer base they can rely on to support them. We get the beer we pay for, after all.

That’s not to say that anyone should buy bad or overpriced beer just because it comes from down the road. One of the great things about local business is accountability. Give a new local brewery the benefit of the doubt, keep buying something you like (sounds obvious but how many of us only drink whatever is new?) and if a brewery lets you down, tell them. Local breweries depend on their local customers so they will listen to what you have to say and be happy to engage in real conversation. You are far less likely to get a generic “thank you for your interest” email from someone who might drink in the same pub you do.

At the shop we get asked for local beers more often than we get asked for organic, vegetarian and cheap beers put together so it’s clearly important to a lot of people.

None of this means that local beers are better, or that anyone should drink them exclusively. It just means that they have added value beyond how they taste. I’m as bad as the next person for buying my groceries at the supermarket and my books on Amazon, and before working for an independent off-license I rarely thought about how I bought my booze either. Every time an independent bookshop closes down we all decry the evils of mass consumerism, Waterstones and the internet, conveniently forgetting that we never actually bought anything in the shop we apparently loved so much. We shouldn’t let the same thing happen to our breweries.

Some of my favourite more-or-less local breweries:

Magic Rock!









Pancakes for breakfast

I’m not a big fan of religion, but I do really like religious holidays, especially those I grew up with. I like rituals, and I like shared experience. I watch films on TV even though I have the DVD sitting on my shelf because I like knowing that thousands of other people are watching the same thing the same time. I especially like edible traditions. I like knowing that every Boxing Day we will have my Dad’s roast ham, and that at some point in December I’ll make my Mum’s mincemeat cake.

So, I really like Pancake Day. When we were kids it was always proper crêpes with lemon and sugar, but I’ve experimented a little more in recent years. Did you realise that Yorkshire pudding batter is basically pancake batter? And there’s no reason you couldn’t do Chinese crispy duck pancakes or make a crêpe cake either. Pancakes of some form are found in most cultures so there are pretty endless possibilities.

The only meal my husband and I were going to share this year was breakfast, so American style fluffy pancakes it is. They are so much easier to deal with first thing in the morning, and I even found a recipe with porridge oats in it. With blueberries and bananas I almost managed to convince myself that carbs fried in butter then drenched in maple syrup was a healthy balanced breakfast! These were awesome, and not lumpy and earnest like I worried. They were still light and fluffy, they just had a little more flavour to them. If I had been alone I probably would have licked my plate.


Oatmeal Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

We made a half recipe of these which made a big breakfast for two. Seriously, I didn’t even want my lunch. To make things easier in the morning, the night before I measured and combined all my dry ingredients in one bowl, and my wet ingredients minus the egg in a jug. This mean that all I actually had to do in that desperate time before I have my coffee was mix everything together rather lazily before frying and eating. Easy.

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Perfect Lasagne

Mums always make the best lasagne. It’s such a comfort food, all rich and soft and savoury. My favourite is my Mum’s, obviously, though my mother-in-law’s comes in a close second. I’m sure my husband would rank them the other way round. Of course this means I never make it. If someone else makes a dish better than I can, I’ll leave them to it and look forward to it as a special treat when I visit. Otherwise I’d spend the whole meal thinking about how much better it could be, and that’s no way to spend your time. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

My perfect lasagne is defined as being so good that I use torn off pieces of bread to scrape out every last bit of creamy ragu from the bottom of the baking dish. It is rich and meaty, with plenty of wine in the ragu and enough cheese to turn crispy around the edges, but not so much that you feel like you need a heart bypass before you’ll even be able to move from the table. It’s the kind of dish that grownups make, grownups who can cook balanced family meals and never get so drunk they forget to brush their teeth before they go to bed. I am not that kind of grownup, so I leave it to my mother.

Then a couple of months ago the Guardian ran a ‘perfect lasagne’ recipe, complete with lots of pictures, and I was unable to get the thought out of my head for weeks. Eventually I caved and spent the afternoon simmering ragu, stirring béchamel and layering it all up. The result was disappointingly underwhelming. It tasted like a ready meal, or something you’d get in a pub. Which amounts to the same thing really. It was nice enough, in the way that pasta always is, but not worth the hours or money I’d spent on it. Even with the ‘best’ recipe my lasagne coudn’t even touch my Mum’s. So once again I resolved to leave it to the experts.

And then last week Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for lasagne bolognese and those cravings, they started up again. I am nothing if not a slave to every whim of a craving that passes through my head (my future pregnancy will be a joy), and Deb at Smitten Kitchen has never, ever disappointed me. So I bought the beef and the wine and got to work on my day off. And this time it was magnificent. I will never need another bolognese or lasagne recipe again because this is perfect. It tastes just like my Mum’s. The carrot, onion and celery that make the mirepoix (or soffritto in Italian) are cooked for longer, almost until you think it will burn, which gives a deep, rich flavour that carries right through the dish. Similarly the beef is cooked until well browned, the wine is added with enthusiasm and plenty of tomato puree rather than chopped tomatoes make it taste like it’s been cooking for much longer than three hours. The garlic is added both with the mirepoix and in the béchamel (which is creamy, not gloopy) at the end, which means you get the mellow flavour of slow cooked garlic and also the fragrant bite of it too. And if a giant pile of grated parmesan doesn’t make you weak at the knees I’m really not sure what you’re doing reading this.

I’m telling you, my flat has rarely smelled more fantastic in it’s short life. The only change I made to the recipe was to use dried lasagne sheets instead of making my own. We made this while spring cleaning the flat, and I spent far too much time trying to convince my husband that cleaning the skirting boards is necessary and I am not in fact insane to worry about whether I had rolled my pasta thin enough. Maybe next time. While the entire dish does take a while (you’ll need to set aside at least five hours) it’s not difficult. If you can chop and stir then you can make this easily. And honestly, with a big salad, bread and a bottle of wine, this is the best meal we’ve shared with friends in a long time. By the end we were all ‘tidying up’ the baking dish with hunks of bread, or in my weird sister’s case with lettuce leaves.


Lasagne Bolognese at Smitten Kitchen (you’ll be hearing a lot more about Smitten, if I haven’t already bored the pants of you with my giant crush on Deb)

Note: Don’t worry if you don’t have a food processor, a sharp knife and a little patience work just as well. As does a husband bribed with the promise of lasagne.

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Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball

I’ve got a real soft spot for Magic Rock. They’re from my home town, in fact their brewery is a stone’s throw from where my husband lived when we first met. I took swimming lessons around the corner when I was a child. Not that it was there then of course, Magic Rock have existed for less than a year. They are lovely friendly guys and they make fantastic beer with a really strong identity, right through to their brilliant label designs.

I also have a soft spot for black IPAs, so I was eager to try Magic 8 Ball. There have been pretty mixed reviews of this beer, with some saying it’s a triumph, a symphony, the best black IPA ever to have graced the planet. Others found it unbalanced and lacking cohesiveness, a rare disappointment from an otherwise favourite brewery. Others just don’t like black IPA, but that’s their loss. I find myself somewhere in between. It’s not my favourite black IPA, but it’s close.

It pours a very thick opaque black with a thin tan head. The nose is a powerful mix of passionfruit, mango, peach and cut dandelion leaves. There’s a strong coffee flavour to it, but it reminds me quite specifically of the coffee we had in Cuba – very fresh and grown in the garden. The roasted bitterness is powerful and well rounded, though not especially long. Is there such a thing as rich freshness? This beer is both rich, thick and intense, and also fresh in the same way as juice from a ripe mango dribbling down your chin. That contrast is what makes black IPAs so interesting, and I think it’s well demonstrated here. Like all of Magic Rock’s stronger offerings the 7% abv is very well hidden, I’ve had to force myself to drink it slowly.

This is an extremely tasty and very well crafted beer and definitely worth trying, especially if you can find it on draft. But honestly, the same goes for anything Magic Rock make. Theirs is always the pump clip I’m most excited to see when I walk into a bar. I can’t help it, I’m a bit of a fanboy.

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Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Both whoopie pies and red velvet cake are so cutesy and American I thought I’d never make them. Neither are very exciting, being a cakey sandwich cookie and a chocolate cake filled with red food colouring respectively. Like the ubiquitous sawdust-flavoured cupcakes with elaborately coiffed frosting, they are all about appearance rather than taste.  Both have been doing the rounds on food blogs for years so despite the fact that I’ve never tasted either before, I was already bored of them. I can be such a disdainful hipster sometimes.

But when you need a cutesy handheld and easily portable cake to give away to customers on Valentine’s Day, they come into their own. Marketing around the second week of February is fraught with condescending gender clichés, heteronormativity and tacky unoriginality. I’m damned if I’m going to try and sell beer by telling men “it’s pink!” as though that’s the direct line to every woman’s heart. Or as though all my customers are straight men with needy infantile girlfriends waiting for them at home. I don’t like to be talked down to or excluded like that so I won’t do it to my customers.

However, I have no problem bribing them with cake. My plan was to get them through the door with the promise of sweet treats, then help them find the perfect boozy romantic gift. Whether that was the perfect wine to go with a steak, prosecco that looks and tastes more expensive than it is, or a beer brewed in the town they got married in. Unfortunately I got trapped in the office doing paperwork for the afternoon, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my coworker ate more than his fair share. Unexpectedly, the few customers I did get to chat to seemed positively suspicious of free food, which baffles me completely. Honestly, what kind of sicko turns down surprise cake on an otherwise routine shopping trip?

These were lovely though. What’s not to like about chocolate cake and cream cheese frosting? They’re very sweet but small enough to not feel sickly. The batter was pretty forgiving, so even though I over baked the cookies slightly and they weren’t as light and fluffy as I’d have liked, I doubt anyone else noticed. I think they also benefited from a night in the fridge, allowing the frosting to soften the cookie and the flavours to meld together a little. My piping skills leave a lot to be desired, but I was still pretty pleased with how these turned out (besides, my husband’s coworkers never complain about getting a box full of deformed rejects). They’re a great crowd pleaser and are far less complicated to make than they look, the only problem is that now I have a bowl of leftover cream cheese frosting. Which I will definitely not eat with a spoon. No sir, not me.


Red Velvet Whoopie Pies via Annie’s Eats

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How I almost ruined Valentine’s Day

I had the most fantastic menu planned for Valentine’s Day. Despite finding the whole holiday a bit icky, we were going to do it properly and dine on rare roast beef with a maple juniper rosemary glaze, creamy mashed potatoes with leeks and a rich red wine and chocolate jus.

It was a disaster. Sure, the beef was nice but the juniper in the glaze was distracting and intrusive, the mashed potato wasn’t seasoned correctly and the jus, which sounded so good on paper, was completely disgusting. The chocolate was supposed to give a deep backnote to a wine and stock based sauce, and instead it completely took over, rendering every bit of precious potato it touched grossly inedible. I could have kicked myself, because the whole thing was my own fault.

Firstly, I followed a recipe I had no reason to trust. Do not trust an unknown blogger with an important meal unless there is a slew of positive comments to prove that a dish works. Dammit, I know that. The internet is full of people who think they are terribly informed because they once read an article on the NY Times website and therefore spout off about how your interpretation of Star Wars/the Bible/politics in the Middle East is ignorant and mistaken. Food bloggers are no different. Taste might be very personal, but writing a clear, concise and reliable recipe is a very difficult thing to do. Secondly I ignored my own gut feeling in favour of the recipe. I read the recipe and thought, “that sounds like a lot of chocolate”. Then I got the chocolate out and thought, “this is a lot of chocolate, this can’t possibly balance out”. Then I dumped it in anyway. Stupid. Lastly, I didn’t taste things as I went. The cardinal sin of a cook. If I had added the chocolate slowly, tasting carefully with each addition, the sauce might have been saved. My chocolate might have been very different in flavour or had higher or lower cocoa solids to the one the anonymous blogger used, my wine might have been much lighter or my stock could have been more or less salty than hers. These things could have still gone awry even with a very good recipe. Which this wasn’t.

The two gin martinis and the half bottle of pinot noir I had softened the blow somewhat. As did the île flottante I made for dessert. A perfect icy cold rum-spiked crème anglaise topped with a soft baked meringue, fresh blueberries and a drizzle of dark caramel. This is the kind of classic French dessert I love to order in restaurants but had always shied away from making at home, thinking it would be too complicated, too time consuming or just too difficult. Luckily, considering those martinis, it was very simple and tasted phenomenal. The crème anglaise was smooth and rich, heavily spiked with vanilla and rum we brought home from our honeymoon, while the meringue was as soft and light as cappucino foam and still slightly warm from the oven. The contrasting bright flavour of the berries and the dark, almost crunchy caramel finished it all off brilliantly. Naturally, by the time I got this to the table we were both drunk and starving so there are no pictures of my triumph. I’m a bad blogger.

Of course, like any good Valentine’s Day, the best part of the evening was just spending it together. Pottering about the kitchen with  a cocktail in my hand, listening to the radio and actually talking to each other has always been my favourite way to spend an evening off, manufactured holiday or not. And then we watched Cronos, because why not? Vampires are romantic, everyone says so.



Crème Anglaise from David Lebowitz, my favourite American in Paris (I spiked my crème with rum rather than orange zest, because that’s how I roll)

Baked meringue and caramel sauce from Ina Garten (David’s crème anglaise recipe is more detailed and reliable, but this’ll see you through the meringue with no trouble)

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