Hattie Vs Cheese: An Apology

You’re probably wondering why there was no Hattie Vs Cheese last month. Or, perhaps, you didn’t even notice. I wouldn’t blame you. Possibly there’s no need to write this post, but I think enough of you are going to keep asking me about cheese that it’s probably worth publicly clearing the air on this:

There will be no more Hattie Vs Cheese.

Let me be clear: it’s not because I’m a coward who refuses to ever like cheese. I especially want to be clear on this for the sake of my mother, whose idea this whole thing was: My goal is still to learn to like cheese! Or at least, the obvious cheeses. Ideally when my family get the cheese board out this Christmas, I’d like to be eating at least a couple of them with relish. I am still going to try hard and eat more cheeses this year.

However, I’m not going to be blogging about it, and the reasons for this are as follows:

  1. The majority of people aren’t interested. To be frank, hits on this blog have been slowly declining – certainly because Amy and I have less time and are less interested in posting regular, high-quality content. We’re basically just writing this for our close circle of friends and family these days, and to be honest, I just don’t see the value in that. I’m much funnier in person. Let’s go for drinks and I can tell you about my cheese escapades.
  2. I have other things I’d rather be writing. Most obviously, I now blog twice a week at http://healthandhattieness.wordpress.com. I really love what I write there! I have far more ideas and inspiration for it! A lot of people read it, find it really helpful, and tell me how much they enjoy it! It feels far more valuable and less like a series of weird in-jokes! But not just that – my general writing, poetry and prose, has been suffering for a long time now. It doesn’t respond well to pressure being placed on it. And whereas my other blog feels like a relief of this pressure, whenever I sit down to write anything personal these days, I think about all that cheese I haven’t eaten yet. It’s a drain on my time and my creative energies, and I don’t think that’s healthy.
  3. I don’t really believe in the whole concept! When Amy first started Amy Vs Fruit, I told her I didn’t think that’s how people started eating fruits. Admittedly, it worked OK for her – but that was because she conquered a big fear and then slowly began to work more fruits, with my help, into her regular diet. I’m not scared of cheese, I’m just unaccustomed to the strong taste of it, and trying one new cheese a month in a weird experiment isn’t really going to help me overcome that. It’s not how we naturally eat cheese, and trying to learn to eat cheese in this way is just going to keep it seeming like a novelty to me rather than a normal part of my diet. And the first half of the year is full of cheese that I think I probably will like, and the second half of the year is full of cheese that I think I probably won’t, and I’m not sure my opinion on that will change as the year progresses. Some people never like strong cheese, and I think I will always be one of those people.
  4. It isn’t, and never will be, as good as Amy Vs Fruit. Part of that is just that fruit is far more interesting in cheese – it’s more varied, there are more ways to eat it, there are odd peels and stones and textures to make jokes about, a huge number of colours and flavours. Cheese is all much of a cheeseness, you know? It’s just cheese. I can melt it on toast but there’s not much else out there really. And, more importantly, I’m not as funny as Amy. It’s always been the case that I’ve done the food writing and she’s done the jokes. So both on the Amy part and the Fruit part, I’m producing inferior alternatives. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So anyway. That’s it. The truth about cheese. I hope you all understand and forgive me. Amy and I will still review brunches here from time to time whenever we have one, as we did last week, but that doesn’t happen so often these days, as our work schedules are different and we’re living a life of London poverty. I’m not saying the blog is ending, but we just want to keep it fun and casual, as brunch always should be. I hope that makes sense! If you want to take either of us to brunch separately, we’d love that.

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Bad Egg (Moorgate)

Bad Egg mimosas

Hello, hello, hello! Yes, long time, no brunch. If you think it’s been hard for you, think about what we’ve been going through! Working different weekend schedules has really messed up our brunch blogging, make no mistake.

This date has been in my diary for months in heated anticipation. Matt, our American friend, is back in the UK for the first time in four years, and we’re taking him to brunch. Not just any brunch. Bottomless brunch.

I did a lot of research on Timeout and Buzzfeed to find the right place. I wanted bottomless booze, but I didn’t want to feel short-changed on the food either. It needed to be reasonably affordable, easy to get to, serving at noon on Sundays and absolutely delicious. It was a surprisingly difficult task, but after a bit of hunting around, I discovered Bad Egg.

Bad Egg is a Latin American style diner that does ‘small plate’ brunches. With the bottomless brunch deal, you get 3 small plates, as well as endless bloody marys, frizzante or mimosas, for up to two hours. The price is £35, plus service.

There are about 13 dishes on the menu, so with three of us getting three dishes each, we got a nice taste of the bulk of what’s on offer. This is definitely the way to do it – most things split easily two ways, but we managed between three of us to get a good amount of everything. My favourite was the French Toast – much better value than the pancakes, we got it with berries and vanilla cream and it was delicious and filling. I made the mistake of eating it first, because it arrived first and the waitress put it right in front of me, when it should clearly have been my dessert palate cleanser.

Bad Egg French toast

Blueberry jam is our jam

The Chilaquiles were surprisingly crisp and despite coming with “goat’s curd” (which I was sure I would not like) they did not taste at all goaty. I also loved the macanchini, tiny little fried mac&cheese balls – I’ve decided that when I get married they will be served as hors d’oeurves at my wedding. My only food complaint was that I felt the Guacamole was under-seasoned – I want my Guac to have a chilli punch, a limey zing, and a good kick of salt, whereas this was basically just mashed avocado (fine, but don’t call it Guacamole, and you still need salt).

In general, this felt less ‘bottomless’ than Made in Camden – we didn’t get the endlessly replaced pastries and toast, and we were firmly booted out after our two hours were up. But the booze flowed freely – the waitress never knowingly left us un-topped up and made the drinks nice and strong – and the food was delicious.

Still, our quest for the perfect bottomless brunch is not yet over – onwards! (well, probably not for six more months, at this rate…)

– Hattie

Bad egg plate

Check out the pasta inside that little ball of goodness

As a British person, here are the things I love most about hanging out with Americans:

1) Funny accents.

2) They find everything you say hilarious.

3) Comparing all the things you do slightly differently literally never gets old.

Sidebar: I tried to find a gif of that bit in Love Actually where they say “bottle” at each other and then burst out laughing over and over again. But I guess it’s more of an aural joke.

In Matt’s case, as soon as he said he was coming back to the UK I knew that we should take him to brunch because he’s one of our three regular readers we would have a nice time and his blog gets way more hits than ours there were no ulterior motives. Also his blog gets way more hits than ours.

Personally, I would put Bad Egg up there with some of our best ever brunches. It was a sunny morning, we had largely avoided any hangovers from our “welcome back to England” party the night before, and I was excited not to be at work on a Sunday for once.

Things got off to a great transatlantic start when we were choosing what to order, and I said how excited I was by the idea of fried chicken pancakes with bananas. Bananas! How great is that? And then Matt was all “I dunno, I just feel like I have that all the time.”

THAT’S PEOPLE FROM BROOKLYN FOR YOU I GUESS.

While I loved all the dishes Hattie mentioned in her bit, it was the chicken and banana that really blew me away. The combination wasn’t something I would have been into a year ago (when I didn’t eat fruit, as has been well documented) but it worked perfectly. If I had to choose just one of those plates again, it would be that one. Hands down.

Bad Egg first round

Clockwise from far left: Blueberry French toast, bacon pancakes, macanchini, chicken and banana pancakes, chilaquiles

Surprisingly, my second favourite ALSO contained fruit. Unlike Hattie, I had the foresight to leave my portion of blueberry and vanilla French toast until the end, which meant I could enjoy it extremely slowly over our final hour of sitting around having our mimosas refilled. And it was amazing. The French toast was so thick, and the toppings were so generous, it didn’t even matter that we’d split the dish into three – it was perfect.

One key bit of advice: if you’re sharing lots of dishes, ask the waiting staff if they can bring them out slowly. As it was, we got so overwhelmed by having nine dishes on the table, we ate them too quickly and didn’t really appreciate each one as much as it deserved.

And now… It’s time for the opinions of our special guest star, all the way from the other side of the ocean! Give it up for Matthew! *The crowd goes wild*

– Amy

 

Oh good. Someone already mentioned that thing I actually said about chicken and waffles. I’m a millennial living in the hipster part of Brooklyn and one of my great joys in life is brunch. I’m part of the problem.

The chilaquiles were my surprise favorite too, but I’m surprised that no one’s given any love for the pulled pork, beans, and kimchi on toast. This was the really interesting one for me. Maybe it was just me personally, since I’ve spent time in the UK (Beans on toast! Who did that? It gets me every time!), South Korea (There is always kimchi. Always.), and Brooklyn (Where you’ll come across a fusion of pretty much anything sooner or later), but that was the dish I walked away from this brunch thinking I’ve got to try making it for myself sometime.

But you really can’t go wrong with the variety of options here. There’s four different types of french toast or pancake plates for the breakfast purists (note that these are British pancakes, not the American pancakes we were all anticipating for some reason, so you’re probably better off choosing french toast just to support all the toppings), but there’s some great creativity to be found as well. Hattie’s mentioned the macanchini, which was perfect.

Bad Egg avocado plates

Clockwise from left: hamburger hash, pulled pork and beans and kimchi, poached egg and guacamole, chilaquiles

I’m still deliberating over the cheeseburger hash, which is exactly what it sounds like: someone realized that a cheeseburger and fries is pretty easily translated into a breakfast food, what with the meat, cheese, and potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, this is not something you’re ordering to appreciate the nuanced art of cooking. This is a simple pleasure. But I wish it had used any cheese other than American cheese (ironically, I think I was the only one who felt strongly about that), and the meat seemed to actually have been broken up bits of hamburger rather than just beef mixed into the proceedings, which was rather chunky and unnecessary. I would have already gathered that, in another life, this meal would have been a cheeseburger.

I didn’t take as much issue with the strict two-hour time limit. The staff made absolute certain you had a mimosa in front of you at all times, and any more than two hours of that would probably risk turning it into a not-so-great experience. (Editorial note: what a lightweight. – Amy) There were also only two single-occupancy toilets, and that was already becoming an issue with the amount of booze everyone in the restaurant was having.

It’s worth pointing out that it’s somewhat on the pricey side for the actual volume of food you get, but I have nothing to complain about with Bad Egg. The staff was friendly, the service was fast, the food was delicious, and alcohol happened. Amy and Hattie have proven to me that they do not take the name “Best Brunch Ever” lightly.

– Matthew

Bad Egg Hattie and Matt

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Hattie Vs Cheese: what cheese can lure a grizzly from a mountain?

Camembert.

Things have been altogether too easy up until now. I know that you’re all bored out of your mind. There is no point reading about me eating cheeses that you and I both know are perfectly edible. I understand this.

This is the first month that made my stomach knot. My heart sink. My toes go cold. The first month where I actually thought I might just… pack it all in? Not eat any cheese? Who would really care?

But my mum left a comment on my last post saying “you cannot back out now” and if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I never NEVER want to disappoint my mum.

So here I am, standing before a dish ladened with the world’s top four ingredients – potatoes, bacon, onion, cream – with a block of cheese in one hand, wondering why on earth I would ruin such a perfectly good plate of food in this way.

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This month’s challenge is “soft cheese, but with a rind. Brie, camembert, etc.”

Like many cheese dishes, I know the smell of Tartiflette better than the taste. It’s a dish that my cousins used to order on family ski trips in the Alps. You’d take off your skis, balance them precariously on those metal racks, and trip into a log cabin restaurant, and the smell would hit you. It’s warm and a little nutty, but mostly, it smells like Alpine cow manure. That manure is Reblochon, a soft french cheese that is the famous centrepiece of Tartiflette.

I’m following a recipe I got from Jamie’s FoodTube, which is pretty standard for me. My potatoes and bacon and onions are all cooked and coated with a good helping of cream. With a sigh, I slice up the cheese. I know I need to face the anxiety in my stomach head on, so I take a bite of the cheese raw.

It’s barely stronger than mozzarella, except around the rind which definitely has a sour milk sort of flavour. It doesn’t taste like it smells. I’m reassured. I layer the cheese on top of the Tartiflette, and put it in the oven.

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Amy and I both have it that evening and in the end, it’s a little disappointing. The ingredients promise a lot but in the end, it’s just a bit too dry. I was promised the cheese would melt enough to form a sauce but maybe I needed more of it, and more cream too. And overall, I prefer the bits without cheese on. Six out of ten.

My next challenge is Brie. I always thought of Brie as being a strong cheese but apparently it’s not. Doesn’t it sound like a strong cheese to you? Again, it’s one of those smelly ones. I have a bone to pick with Brie, too, because Pret replaced my favourite toastie – mozzarella and Pesto – with Brie, Tomato and Avocado. Life can be so cruel.

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I’m all about including cheese in my life in practical ways, and a new Pret toastie seems like a good shout in this regard. Oh god, was this a mistake. It wasn’t even the Brie – which tasted fine, just a bit slimy and nothing-y. Warm avocado is the problem. Watery tomato is the problem. The whole sandwich is completely lacking in any kind of flavour or texture, aside from the bread.

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I shared my findings on Twitter and everyone was in agreement – this is a terrible combination. For God’s sake, Pret! If you’re going to take away my favourite toastie, at least replace it with something edible! I’m even madder now!

After two not-so-bad cheese experiences, I was actually quite looking forward to my third and final escapade. I can’t count the occasions where I’ve gone for dinner or to a pub and people have all been sharing a baked Camembert. I love sharing food! I hate missing out on these fun communal eating activities!

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One friend in particular, Ollie, is a huge fan of baked Camembert. The first time I told him I didn’t eat it, he nearly kicked me out of his house. I felt like this was a good opportunity to make it up to him – invite him round for Camembert. He brought wine, of course.

We served it up with hot, crusty Ciabatta, a selection of cured Italian deli meats, and garlic mushrooms. And wine, of course.

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Taste-wise, this was entirely problem-free for me. It didn’t even have that sour milk flavour… maybe that’s a sign I’m getting used to cheese? Texturally, that slight rubberiness was something I still have to get used to – it looked much more liquidy than it actually felt in your mouth, which was confusing for my brain. But overall, I really enjoyed it – 8/10, would eat again.

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Next month is “mild but hard – Cheshire or Wensleydale”. I am keen to have recommendations and recipes.

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Hattie Vs Cheese: Which cheese surrounds a castle?

Moatzarella.

And that’s as good as this blog is gonna get.

If you thought last month’s blog was sort of cheating because I clearly actually like Cream Cheese, boy are you in for a treat. Because the truth is, I love Mozzarella. It’s basically just chewy milk, and I drink a lot of milk. I promise you guys, I do actually hate cheese… just, my mum set the timetable for this blog, and she started me off with some easy ones.

There’s also no way you can be as big a fan of Italian food as I am and avoid Mozzarella (though I guess you could say the same of Parmesan, and that I have definitely never learned to like. It goes squarely in the ‘why did you ruin my pasta with this disgusting powder that smells like sick?’ column.). It’s so good and it’s everywhere, and it’s the real mark of an authentic Italian restaurant, I feel.

So I guess in the UK we have two types of Mozzarella. There’s the plastic-y grated stuff that comes in bags that we melt on top of pizzas, and I think originally wasn’t even technically classed as cheese at all, and which my Italian colleague Manu would probably burst into tears if I ever showed her. And then there’s Buffalo Mozzarella, which we all know is the real deal, except not as real as the stuff in Italy and still sort of makes Manu cry out of homesickness even when she’s making me the best gnocchi I’ve ever tasted.

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I’m focusing on the second kind, anyway. I think. Actually the first mozzarella I had this month I ordered at a restaurant so who knows what it looked like originally. It was inside the Arancini I had as a starter, and it was without doubt the nicest part of my meal, at what turned out to be a pretty mediocre restaurant.

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Then I bought some mozzarella to have at work, which is something I do quite often. I put it inside a fresh panini from Sainsbury’s with Palma Ham and Rocket and microwaved it for a minute and it was divine.

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Then I remembered the whole point of this blog was that I wasn’t supposed to only eat cheese that had been melted, seeing as that had been my entire life until this point, so the next day I had all the leftover ingredients cold and without a panini. It still tasted great. Mozzarella melts well, obviously, but it’s also delicious as it comes – chewy, milky, creamy, totally inoffensive. That said, I didn’t remember to take a photo, so here’s another picture of the panini.

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I tried to make the most out of this month because next month I actually have to eat a cheese I’ve never eaten before (“Something soft, but with a rind, like a Brie or a Camembert”… RIND??? Shudder.) That said, I’m not as funny at these blogs as Amy is, so maybe as our hit count continues to dwindle I can just fade out and never write another blog about cheese and no one will notice…

HINT HINT.

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Hattie Vs Cheese: What Cheese do you use to disguise a horse?

Mascarpone.

Look, I’ve never pretended to be the funny one on this blog.

I’m going to continue in this spirit of forthrightness and say up front: I don’t believe this blog is going to work, OK? I’m not like Amy. I haven’t been cowering from cheese since childhood, scraping out the fillings of my cakes and going without dessert in case one of them has accidentally touched a raspberry. I eat cheese.

Kinda.

Let me explain. I don’t like strong cheese flavours. I don’t really like the texture of cheese, unless it’s melted or cooked. I’m not sure why anyone ever decided to eat cheese given that it’s clearly just milk that’s gone funny and it definitely smells like that’s what it is.

But, you know, I’m not a monster. I’ve eaten pizza for years. I love a good cheese panini. I don’t even really mind a cheesy pasta bake. It’s just that point of the night where the cheese board comes out that I feel a bit… overfaced. Threatened. Ganged up on. Why are we letting this one food become the entire course of an otherwise great meal? GUYS, WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT CHEESE?

I’ve decided I need to find out.

I’m going to be more systematic than Amy because, quite frankly, I think her method of learning to eat new foods is silly. I wrote about this in more detail on my other blog, so to summarise: you can’t tell if you like a food by eating it once. You have to eat it multiple times, in multiple forms, over a sustained period of time. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to eat one cheese at least three times over a month, and blog about my experiences. And the cheese are going to increase in difficulty/strength over the year. So yes, you only get one blog a month from me. But I promise you, I’ll make it count.

We’ve started on a beginner’s setting, with cream cheese. Which I definitely already eat. But it’s January and no one wants things to be difficult in January because let’s be honest things are already crap enough.

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The first way I eat cream cheese is at work, on a bagel, with smoked salmon. This is pretty predictable stuff if you’ve ever read any of my blog posts before. I can see how that creaminess works with the rich saltiness of the fish. But I have to ask an honest question… does no one else think that cream cheese just tastes like sour milk? Because guys, it does. I can get used to it, sure, but I’m never gonna go mad for cream cheese on a bagel like some people do.

My stepdad used to eat plain white bread with philadelphia and jam when he was at his poorest, and I think I might actually get that more. Sweet sharpness works well with cream cheese. Which inspires my second experiment… Cheesecake.

I started eating cheesecake at university, as with most foods, because it would look silly not to. And because it’s mandatory to choose cake over no cake, no matter what kind of cake that is. Still, I resented the people who put cheesecake in front of me. Because they could easily have served real cake, and they chose not to, and that’s just insane.

Anyway, the cheesecake I made was a banoffee one, and to make it, I basically just stirred a tin of caramelised condensed milk into two tubs of philadelphia and whipped cream. The sweetness of the caramel definitely masked the sharp flavour I don’t really like, and the dessert was delicious. I took it into work to stop myself eating the entire thing in one go, and my colleagues groaned with pleasure and a mild sense of horror that I would inflict that on their January diets. I declare it a thorough success.

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My final cream cheese quest was to tackle an old foe – Tiramisu (which is made with mascarpone, which basically is just cream cheese, yes?). I have long held a grudge against Tiramisu, for the simple reason that I love Italian food, and it is often the only dessert on a menu at an Italian restaurant, and it pretends to be a chocolate cake, when it is, in fact, cheese and coffee. My mum told me Tiramisu was chocolate cake when I was eight, and it most definitely DEFINITELY was not, and it was the biggest disappointment of my life.

I’m starting to sound like Amy. It wasn’t actually the biggest disappointment of my life.

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Amy and I went to an Italian restaurant to celebrate… nothing, to be honest, I think we just wanted pizza. And we both ordered the Tiramisu. And actually… it was delicious. Sorry Tiramisu. Sorry for ever doubting you.

3/3 ain’t bad. Next month… mozzarella. I know, I know, that doesn’t count either. Go easy on me. Or, if you’d prefer, suggest future cheeses in the comments.

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Granger & Co (King’s Cross)

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I know I usually like to start these things by setting the scene a little, talking about the ambience or the hot waitstaff, but I just have to tell you guys, these were the best pancakes I have ever had.

They’re not technically called pancakes. They’re called ricotta hotcakes. I’m not sure if this is to throw you off or to entice you, but I’d seen them arriving on a rival table and I knew they were what I wanted. They’re also served with “honeycomb butter” so you can see I had very little choice in the matter.

These are the thickest, fluffiest pancakes you’ve ever seen. But they aren’t too sweet, as american style pancakes can sometimes be. In fact, the ricotta gives them an intense flavour, slightly savoury (though not too much), and that wonderful warm sort of taste that signals home baking. Though I expect they’re fried, but whatever, you get my drift.

These are totally balanced by the accompaniments – a light fluffy pancake served with rich butter, the savoury ricotta balanced with sweet honeycomb, everything both a bit too salty, a bit too sweet. They also come with fresh banana – not mashed to a pulp a la Jackson & Rye, but perfectly ripe in a way that makes you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot if you were to peel this fruit yourself.

Guys. You have to try these pancakes. That’s all I’m saying.

I also ordered a bellini – perfect, classic – and a flat white – the most sophisticated drink. The restaurant is closer to Kings Cross station than granary square, and calmer, quieter. The staff are attentive. The chairs are comfortable. I’ve eaten lunch there too – linguini with prawns and chilli and spring onion, fresh and perfectly judged, with the most wonderful courgette fries to start and a square of perfect pistachio chocolate while we had coffee. I have a colleague who I think practically lives in this restaurant and it’s not hard to see why.

Am I raving? I think that several brunches have disappointed me this year. I feel like I’m seeing the same things over and over again. Possibly it’s my fault – how many different ways CAN you serve poached egg and avocado? But to take a classic like pancakes and make it so perfect takes real skill. I would say my favourite brunch of the year (possibly second to Dishoom, but that’s a different sort of a brunch, and you’ll know which one you want).

I would love to go again and see if the other options on their menu are of the same quality, but then again, will I be able to resist the pancakes’ siren call? Only time will tell.

-Hattie

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“We’re ordering bellinis, right?” asked Hattie as we sat down at Granger & Co one Friday morning in November.

“Of course,” I replied. “And we should tell Matt to buy a bottle of prosecco for the Eurostar before we meet him.”

Everyone, we assumed, would be drinking prosecco on a Friday morning Eurostar to Lille in November. (“I’m so poor,” sighed Hattie later, as the train left St Pancras and I popped the cork. No one let her forget it.)

Hattie and I love to plan exciting end-of-year treats for ourselves in the weeks before Christmas. It’s a great way to get into the festive spirit, celebrate the hard work of the past year, and fight off any winter blues. And this year we outdid ourselves with three days in Lille and one in Bruges. Both cities were bursting with great food, charming Christmas markets, and glittery lights. I would highly recommend it if you need a festive minibreak next year.

But first, of course, we had to get in the mood with a pre-Eurostar brunch, and Granger & Co is just a stone’s throw from St Pancras – perfect for anxious travellers who like to make the journey as stress-free as possible.

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It was magical from the start. There was an angelic newborn baby at the next table, right in our eyeline. The bellinis were crisp and delicate. The coffee was strong and comforting. And I ordered the best – THE BEST – poached eggs on toasted sourdough with spinach and bacon. The eggs were absolutely perfect. The spinach was fresh. The bacon was just charred enough to give it a little kick of flavour.

It’s such a simple meal, really – easy to recreate at home, available in some form on most good brunch menus. But something about this one just came together beautifully in a way I could never achieve in our little kitchen – everything was perfectly balanced, there wasn’t too much or too little of anything on the plate. By the end I felt happy and healthy and ready for an afternoon of dragging suitcases through scary security checks.

It’s a risk to make a simple dish on shows like Masterchef, because they have to be absolutely perfect. Hattie and I haven’t quite swung our own MasterBrunchChef show on BBC2 yet for some reason – but if we had, Granger & Co would be straight through to the final.

-Amy

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Food Porn Friday – Episode 30: Finale

Well my friends. As always, all good things must come to an end. And hasn’t Food Porn Friday been, if not good, at least a mediocre thing.

As right now you, like me, are probably lying in bed hungover after a terribly depressing New Year’s Eve party where you ended up crying about your crush, I’ll keep this quick and painless. I present you with the highlights of Food Porn Friday, my overall top five recipes from the series. Enjoy!

At number five we have a star from controversial ‘Smoked Fish’ week:

Image and recipe: www.ambitiouskitchen.com

Image and recipe: www.ambitiouskitchen.com

I just loved the colours of this, the bright blue taco, the pink salmon, yellow egg and green avocado, and the slightly Mexican twist on the classic flavours.

At number 4, a recipe from chocolate week makes an appearance:

Photo and recipe from ibakeheshoots.com

Photo and recipe from ibakeheshoots.com

I couldn’t not choose a recipe with the perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter, and every time I see this it makes my mouth water.

At number three, this magnificient combo makes the perfect topping in our pancake week episode:

Photo and Recipe from Evil Shenanigans

Photo and Recipe from Evil Shenanigans

Chocolate, maple syrup AND bacon? I applaud you.

In second place, a recipe from  our little trip down Mexico way:

Mexican-Eggs-Benedict-with-Chorizo-Biscuits-and-Chipotle-Hollandaise-Sauce-5

Photo and recipe from Wearenotmartha.com

The Mexican eggs benedict featuring chorizo muffins and sliced avocado looked so good, my mum ALMOST made it for me – apart from my stepdad ate the last avocado.

And finally, the grand winner, the ONE recipe from this bloody series that I ever actually made, from the week commonly referred to as ‘that’s not a real theme, Hattie’, Overnight Week:

Photo and recipe from

Photo and recipe from Pumpkinnspice.com

Banana Caramel Bailey’s French Toast. Could it be more perfect?

Thank you guys for all your support over the past eighteen months and I hope you enjoyed reading. But don’t worry, I’ll be back before the end of the month, talking about cheese apparently.

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Amy vs Fruit Finale: Merry Christmas!

Part one: The most wonderful time of the year

Merry #Chelmsmas, from your two favourites!

A photo posted by Amy Fox (@amyfoxwrites) on

I love Christmastime – I might actually love the weeks running up to Christmas more than the day itself. I love fairy lights in the street and glitter everywhere and putting up my tree in November even though I know everyone else hates it. I love ginger and cinnamon and nutmeg. I love wrapping presents. I love watching the music channels do Christmas playlists hosted by awkward celebrities. I love singing Fairytale of New York at the top of my voice. I love wearing Christmas jumpers and dressing up fancy for Christmas parties.

Now that we’ve lived together for a couple of years, Hattie and I have also begun creating our own traditions – like drinking cocktails before we start our Christmas shopping, and going to see a musical in December, and roasting an entire duck on the weekend before we go back to our families (Hattie wrote beautifully about this tradition yesterday on her other blog). Last year when I tasted the gravy I had made from the roasting pan, it was so good that I cried a bit.

That is the first thing that I am in charge of: the gravy. The second thing is dessert. Last year I made this incredible Mary Berry Baileys cheesecake.

This year, for obvious reasons, it was time for something more fruity (but no less boozey.)

The one thing about Christmas that I have never appreciated is that fruit manages to get EVERYWHERE. It’s in the puddings. It’s in the mince pies. If you’re not careful there will be cranberry on your turkey.

But this year, that hurdle has finally been cleared. I ate a mince pie of my own volition! I ate a turkey-and-stuffing sandwich with cranberry jelly from Sainsbury’s!

This my last Amy vs Fruit. But in the spirit of a spectacular Christmas finale when all the old favourites return to tie up their storylines, I will lay Amy vs Fruit to rest by baking lots of fruits together in a big, rich, indulgent cake.

Part two: The finale

Christmas cake ingredients

Our story starts way back in October. All the best Christmas cakes are baked at least a month in advance – it gives time for the flavours to soak in or something – and you then have the fun of ‘feeding’ it with booze once a week to keep it moist.

I decided to use whisky. It’s not the most Christmassy of spirits – you’re probably supposed to use brandy – but I like whisky more, and I especially liked the idea of saying “one for you, one for me” to the cake every Friday night as I poured myself a glass.

I used this recipe by Nigel Slater, the lovely little Christmas elf.

Step one: Buy some dried mixed fruits, and an orange. As you grate the orange and Hattie is all “You’re grating too vigorously, Amy, stop getting the white bits in the zest,” you will remember why you were so annoyed by oranges the first time: they are just too much of a faff. Once you’ve zested the skin, juice the rest. (This came with more difficulties, because I peeled off the excess skin before I juiced, and then there was nothing to hold on to while I squeezed, and then Hattie had to step in and do it for me and hasn’t shut up about it since. But that’s just me.)

Step two: Empty your dried fruits into a bowl and cover in the hard-won orange juice, zest and whisky. Leave overnight if you remember – I didn’t, of course, so I did this first thing in the morning instead.

Step three: Beat some butter with two different types of muscovado sugar.

Step four: Beat together two eggs and add to the butter and sugar. Add the dried fruits, along with some hazelnuts and almonds.

Christmas cake mixture

Step five: Add baking powder to your flour, then mixed spices, nutmeg and cinnamon. It smells incredible already. Breathe it in. Then add it to the mixture one tablespoon at a time, and stir.

Step six: Line the baking tin with two layers of baking paper, and keep it a good few inches taller than the tin. This is where I made another pretty terrible mistake – I had to choose between a deep rectangular tin and a shallow round one. I thought a rectangle would be weird, so I went for the circle. Idiot.

Step seven: Pour the finished mixture into your cake tin and bake for an hour.

Christmas cake tin

Step eight: Your flat (or house) smells incredible. Unfortunately when I removed my cake it was, predictably, as shallow as the stupid shallow tin I decided to put it in. It was probably about an inch thick and it looked ridiculous.

Step nine: Whatever state it’s in, there’s nothing more to do until you ice it, so keep it wrapped in the baking paper by folding the edges over the top, then wrap it in foil, then put it in a cake box and store in a dry place. Feed with a tablespoon of whisky every Friday until Christmas. Don’t forget to pour yourself one too.

**Interlude: Frank Sinatra plays. Cue a montage of Amy and Hattie going to work and riding the Ferris wheel in Lille and trying on party outfits in New Look and ordering a duck from the butchers and collapsing after a whole day of Christmas shopping**

Step ten: Look at that, two whole months have passed! I’ve had my last day at work, and it’s the day before our Flat Christmas (also known as Chelmsmas, because the tradition started in Chelmsford and it’s too late to change the hashtag now.)

Flat cake

Step eleven: I’ve been thinking about the flat cake and I’ve decided to take drastic measures. I’m going to cut it in half and stack it, so it’s a half-moon shape. And I’m going to use this recipe for whisky buttercream to hold it all together. I couldn’t find any advice on what to use if you want to layer a Christmas fruit cake, so I’m hoping to reap lots of google SEO from this: you can use whisky buttercream as a filling for layered Christmas cake. You can, you can, you can.

Step twelve: Whisk together butter and icing sugar. This will send clouds of powdered sugar all across the kitchen. But it looks quite festive. Add a pinch of salt, vanilla, and then two tablespoons of whisky. Whisk some more.

Step thirteen: Measure the cake carefully, and score a line down the middle before you cut. Measure it again to make sure the line is definitely in the middle – a half moon cake already looks a bit embarrassing, it might as well have straight edges. When you’re feeling brave (maybe eat some buttercream for courage), cut it in half.

Step fourteen: Spread the buttercream across the top of one half, and place the other on top. Congratulations, your cake just doubled in height!

Buttercream cake

Step fifteen: We had a request for no marzipan from one of our guests. Once again, google searches are very unforgiving. There’s an entire NetMums thread about how there is really no alternative to marzipan. Well, I’m sorry mums, but I disagree. You don’t even need apricot jam. If you’re making a Christmas cake and you don’t have apricot jam or marzipan, you can stick on the icing with whisky buttercream. It works perfectly.

Step sixteen: Dust your surface with icing sugar and roll out some white icing. You can make this yourself if you really want to, but full disclosure: I bought mine from the supermarket. It was fine. Although I had to roll it out a couple of times, because it kept getting stuck to the table underneath, and I wanted it to be as smooth and pure white as possible. When you’re happy, carefully lift it up and place it on top of your cake. Press it to the sides, and tuck in the corners. Then carefully cut away the excess.

Christmas cake icing

Step seventeen: You’re done! You’re finally done! If you like, you can cover with some cute decorations. (Also bought from the supermarket in this case.) This is especially helpful if there are some cracks in the icing you would like to cover up.

Christmas cake decoration

In the end, despite all of the mistakes and bodges and haphazard fixes, the cake was incredible. Look at that colour! Look at that even distribution of fruit! The buttercream wasn’t weird at all – it was great! Our flatmate Suze said it was “the best Christmas cake she’d ever had” – and she might not have been lying!

Christmas cake cross section

And so I would like to finish this ridiculous, awkward, slightly mad blog series with the following words of wisdom:

1. You don’t always have to follow the recipe to the last detail. Sometimes you can replace things with other things, or change the plan halfway through, or acknowledge that it doesn’t look quite like the picture, but it tastes amazing anyway.

2. It’s never too late to try new things. Honestly, I know it’s scary – I really do. But the sense of achievement, the freedom of knowing that there are a few more options on the menu that you can order, makes it so worth it. And the more new things you try, the easier it will become, even if you don’t like everything. It won’t kill you – and next time you might find something you love.

3. Merry Christmas, darlings.

Amy and the Christmas cake

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Bun & Bar (Green Lanes)

I get a bus down Green Lanes twice a day, as part of my commute. I sit on the top deck and I look at the Turkish restaurants, the laser hair removal salons, the weird Russian gym and the ever-growing number of hipster coffee shops and I think it might possibly be one of the most wonderful streets in the city. Green Lanes leaves me high on the inexhaustible variety of life.

Bun and Bar sells burgers. They’re good at it. They also do cocktails, which are excellent. Prices start from £7, which for London is pretty good too. The atmosphere is relaxed – no table service, just go and order from the bar, like a real pub. I’ve gone for dinner on a few occasions now and haven’t been disappointed.

A photo posted by Hattie Grunewald (@hatteatime) on

Brunch, on the other hand… I’ll pass. I ordered an eggs benedict and I just felt rather overwhelmed by it. The sauce was, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, too buttery, with no body to it. The poached eggs were underdone. And putting it on top of a brioche bun just made the whole thing too rich. Maybe, with a little less hangover, in a little better mood, it would all have come together – buttery sauce, runny eggs, soft sweet bread – but I couldn’t finish it.

I did get a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups milkshake though and it was delicious. They serve them all day. Definitely, if you’re looking for somewhere on Green Lanes for a casual dinner and drinks catch up where you probably won’t have to book, I would recommend it.

Then again, you can also get a Chicken Shish Kebab from Antepliler across the street and you’d be just as happy. Green Lanes is good like that.

– Hattie

Reese's peanut butter cup milkshake

A photo posted by Hattie Grunewald (@hatteatime) on

Just like Hattie, I am absolutely in love with our little corner of London. I’ve talked about Haringey before – but Green Lanes is our patch.

Despite its name, Green Lanes is actually a road. A very, very long road. It’s right at the heart of London’s Turkish community, with lots of exciting restaurants which are consistently rated the best Turkish eateries in London.

On this particular day, it was my birthday and we did not go to one of those places.

Instead we went to Bun & Bar, because, well, we knew they did brunch. I like Bun & Bar a lot – it has good burgers and great cocktails (although my family was visiting later in the day, so sadly this is not a classic Amy-and-Hattie-start-drinking-at-11am story. Don’t worry, our next review will make up for it). It’s owned by some fun bearded hipster types who project a weird black-and-white cartoon montage onto one of the walls. It’s a the best “hip young media professional” place which is a five minute walk from our house.

(Yes, Hattie and I are terrible gentrifying young people. Please don’t throw cereal at us, or tell our landlords, because they might put the rent up if they find out. In fact, why doesn’t everyone just agree to leave Green Lanes in its only marginally gentrified perfection?)

I ordered the sausage, bacon and egg breakfast burger, and it was pretty good – the egg was runny (although now that I’ve read Hattie’s half, maybe it was just underdone? I liked it anyway, mopping up yolk is one of my top five brunch activities). The bread was a bright yellow brioche. My notes tell me that the sausages were “proper nice”. And how bad can bacon be?

Birthday brunch with @breadforsong!

A photo posted by Amy Fox (@amyfoxwrites) on

My notes from the morning finish with the all-caps exclamation “YAY” so I must have been pretty happy – although maybe I’d just opened the gorgeous Benefit bronzing kit which Hattie had given me because she is an excellent friend. (I HIGHLY recommend a base of the bikini-tini cream paired with the thanks-a-latte longwear shadow. It’s my official eye look of Autumn/Winter 2015.)

My only complaint was the coffee, which was a bog-standard affair from Illy, complete with branded cup. When everything else in the place is so carefully hipster chic, I feel like this an area for improvement. Where’s the special Brazilian roast, served in a flower pot or some other awkward but photogenic receptacle? Think of my instagram followers, Bun and Bar. It’s my BIRTHDAY.

– Amy

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Amy vs Fruit: Plum away with me

Part one: The best is yet to plum

Amy vs Fruit Plums

When I was just 11 years old, fresh into Big School and completely out of my social depth, one of our first food technology lessons involved making a fruit crumble. It felt like a fairly pointless exercise. “I hate fruit!” I said, probably, it was 13 years ago so this whole story will mostly be artful conjecture, a bit like a Philipa Gregory novel. “I’m not even going to eat it! What a waste of my valuable education! I could be learning to make bread, or chocolate cake, or anything else that isn’t completely disgusting!”

We were allowed to choose which fruit to put in the crumble, and because I literally couldn’t care less, I asked my dad what he would like. He loves crumble. He would definitely eat the monstrosity – it might as well be his favourite flavour.

“How about plums?” he suggested. “Plums are lovely.”

What I hadn’t factored in, because I was still so new to the big bad world of secondary schools – where kids finally discovered cliques and were at least a decade away from learning that you’re better off without them – was what my crumble of choice would say about ME.

Plum crumble is not, you know, the most conformist option. It’s not apple. It’s not tasteful highlights and a Jane Norman bag – it’s more like blood red nail polish and black eyeshadow that reaches your eyebrows. It makes you stick out a bit. At that tender young age, I had yet to learn all these things.

I was also spectacularly bad at making plum crumble, which finished up all lumpy and purple with its own juices, not smooth and golden like everyone else’s.

“What IS that?” someone asked.

“Are you REALLY going to eat it?” asked another, like I’d just announced my “secret ingredient” was cat food or beetles. With shame and frustration – “I don’t even EAT fruit? Why have I suddenly been lumbered with a reputation as a weird fruit eater?” – I went as purple as the very plums at the centre of my humiliation.

Probably.

Like I said, I don’t really remember all the details, I just remember that I have resented plums even more than most other fruits ever since.

But it’s okay to stand out from the crowds, you guys. It’s okay to try new things, even if they look gross. It’s even okay to wear black eyeshadow up to your eyebrows, although I prefer the subtle-lids-bold-lips look these days.

And with that astonishing and inspiring lesson about personal growth, I will now eat a plum. I hope I don’t choke on my own insufferability, or a pit.

The good thing about plums is they’re not furry. But they are… incredibly boring. The skin is nice and crunchy, but the flesh inside is just odd. Like, not really smooth but not an interesting texture either. Just kind of grainy.

It’s not even that I dislike the flavour. It’s just – get this for personal growth – I like other fruits more.

(Hattie, on reading this: “Amy, you say that EVERY fruit has betrayed you more than all the other fruits. You don’t have to psychoanalyse your entire childhood every time you blog.”)

Part two: Feeling jammy

Plum ingredientsDespite Hattie’s warning, here’s ANOTHER story about how much I have always hated fruit.

My stepmum, who is an absolute queen in so many ways, is also an excellent cook. When she and my dad were first dating, she would occasionally bring us victoria sponges that she had made. The problem is, I couldn’t eat them – or, more specifically, I couldn’t eat the jam in the middle.

Once she realised this, she she began making half-and-half cakes instead – one side with jam, the other with buttercream. On top, she would trace an icing sugar ‘A’ over the half which I could eat.

I told you she was great.

But, you know, I’m a grown up now, and eating cakes with jam in them is an important step in my fruity education. So here’s what you do.

I used this recipe, because it seemed seemed simple, but I borrowed the idea of spicing it from this one.

Step one: Slice your pums in half. The pit will get in the way, but if you make the cut all the way around, you can twist the two halves apart with your hands. Dig out the pit, using a knife if it’s particularly stubborn. (But be careful, I stabbed fingers in the process.)

Step two: weigh the plums, and then add them to a pot with some water and lemon juice. Bring to the boil, then simmer until it’s gloopy. I wasn’t sure that this would work, because I had 500g of plums, which meant if I followed the recipe it was about 33ml of water. I was pretty sure the plums would just burn. But I added a little extra water halfway through and it was okay!

Plum jam
Step three: Once it’s gloopy, stir in an equal amount of sugar (in my case, 500g). This dissolves very quickly, and this is the point at which I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and ginger just to spice things up a bit. It’s Christmas!

Step four: Whack up the heat and stir continuously until it reaches ‘setting point’. I have no idea what this means, and I certainly don’t have a ‘jam thermometer’. But after about five minutes there was definitely a point at which the mixture changed from boiling liquid to REALLY BUBBLY LIQUID RISING UP EVERYWHERE TO KILL ME POSSIBLY so I assumed this was the setting point and took it off the heat.

Step five: Once it cools down a bit, pour into an empty, clean jar. (I had enough to fill two.) Leave to cool and pop the lid on.

Jam jars
Step six: Present to your loved ones as a touching and thoughtful Christmas present that only cost you a quid. Handmade labels and quirky covers on top is also a plus. I crocheted this one myself because I am extremely talented.

I had this on toast for breakfast the next morning. It was kind of… stiff. I mean, I’m not that used to jam but it definitely shouldn’t tear the bread apart.

Jam on toast

Anyway, the Christmas spices made it totally worth it. Victoria sponge, I’m coming for you!

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