Birthday at the Tea Hive

So it was my birthday on Monday and I did as any sensible girl would do – took the day off in order to eat cake and drink tea. Where better to do this than in my all-time favourite Chorlton spot, the Tea Hive. Tea Hive is a small quirky cafe serving delicious home made cakes, lots of lovely and interesting loose leaf tea blends, and a select few dishes which are focused on fresh ingredients, locally sourced. It is decked out in mismatched vintage style furniture and furnishings with tea sets to match. Very cute. They also have a tranquil little garden out the back which is great in summer, if we ever get one again!!

I have previously blogged about a parsnip, pecan and maple cheesecake I delighted in here. Main courses include stonkingly good sandwiches served on doorstop granary bread from local Chorlton baker Richardsons and meat, I think, from local butcher Frosts. The problem I have experienced in the past is that both the sandwiches and cake portions are MASSIVE! So you finish your sandwich, groaning ever so slightly in pain, and lament the fact that there is no way you can fit in the cake! Luckily, Tea Hive has an answer to this! The so-called “light lunch”. It’s anything but light, really, but damn is it good! You get a smaller version of the sandwich, the soup or salad of the day and a slice of cake. Winning all round!

This is what I went for on Monday. I selected the mature cheddar, homemade chutney of the day and rocket sandwich on granary bread. This doesn’t sound all that exciting compared to some of the exotic creations you get these days, but the beauty is in the simpleness which allows the true deliciousness of the quality ingredients to shine though. Bread; gorgeous, cheese; delicious  chutney; oh so moreish. As a whole, the most perfect cheese sandwich you could ever ask for. The soup of the day was leek and spring greens, and it was light, fresh and lovely.

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To wash it down, I ventured beyond my two favourite tea blends (Earl Grey and Tea Hive Black Tea Blend) to try something new, Russian Caravan. Having an interest in many things Russian, the name intrigued me and I was very glad it reeled me in! This is an intense, smoky, robust tea which actually went perfectly with the mature cheddar.

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It was then time to linger at the cake counter as we tried to choose just one cake to eat for afters! Aside from the parsnip and pecan cheesecake, other previous favourites of mine have included honey and ginger, and orange and almond cakes – the selection is different everytime you go in. On this day however, despite sorely tempting me with a lemon, blueberry and yoghut sponge, there was a tasty looking carrot cake calling to me from behind the glass. Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics and carrot cake is one of my all-time favourites!

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This was incredibly flavoursome and moist, and also nice and coarse, just as it should be in my opinion – lots of big chunks of nuts, yummy! The icing was also spot on! The other half went for the salted caramel chocolate cake, which was demolished before I had a chance to take a picture! He assures me that it was also delicious, however!

A weekend in Bronte country

It’s official – Autumn has well and truly taken hold. And, for once, we lot in Manchester have been blessed with some truly beautiful cold, crisp, sunny days with lots of crunchy golden leaves to kick and a kaleidoscope of colours on the trees as more leaves turn – just as bloody well after the wettest summer on record!

This turn of weather good fortune really has been just as well, as the weekend before last we headed off to Haworth in Yorkshire, affectionately known as Bronte Country and the delightful cold bright autumnal weather meant we could enjoy our wanderings down the steep streets and across the wild open moors far more than if it had been wet and miserable. (In which case I’ll admit I’d probably have been a bit grumpy!)

I’ve not really seen a lot of Yorkshire (being a Scot who’s lived in England only relatively recently, there’s still an awful lot of the English countryside I’d really like to see) and was straight away taken with the charm of Haworth itself. With its steep cobbled high street high lined with quaint and quirky shops and pubs, you could really imagine yourself stepping back in time, as if nothing much had changed for 100 years or more. This sense of history was all the more keenly felt for trips on the Keighly & Worth Valley steam trains

and the almost-tangible presence of the famous Bronte family, particularly after a trip to the Parsonage. As the steam from a passing train billowed in your face, briefly distorting the people and sights immediately around you, you could feel yourself transported to another time. The feeling of the past was further compounded for me by the fact that we were staying in the Haworth YHA – which just so happened to be a converted Victorian mansion, complete with resplendent plasterwork, stained glass and impressive doorways. Being the massive history geek I am, I straight away pictured myself swanning around the house as if I were in Downton Abbey!

While not in the village itself, we continued to be blessed with beautiful weather as we lolloped our way up the Pennine Way and across heathery open moors, continuing to spot Bronte-related sights such as Top Withins farmhouse and Penistone Crag.

Of course all these activities in the bracing country air meant we worked up quite an appetite which meant lots of yummy food! Somehow, I managed to fail to take any food photos apart from of some cake (more on that later!) (I know, I’m a terrible food blogger!)

I do just have to describe the fantastic meal we ate on the Saturday night however, even if I don’t have a photo, as it was the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life! Firstly, I would never usually order chicken when out for a meal, tending to plump for more indulgent choices or things we don’t often cook at home. Something about the description of this dish on the menu called out to me however and I am so glad I ordered it! The pan roasted chicken was glazed in maple syrup and wholegrain mustard (two of my favourite things – this reeled me in first!) and was served with a roasted butternut squash puree (oohh, another of my favourite things, I might just have to order the chicken!), apple reduction and cornbread and sage stuffing. The skin of the chicken was practically indescribably tasty – sticky and crispy and sweet and savoury all at the same time…. mmmm… the roasted butternut squash puree was so sweet and flavoursome, and the stuffing was a fantastic coarse texture and also bursting with taste. As I write this, I think I am definitely going to have to try and re-create this at home! So, a lesson for me, don’t always discount the chicken as the ‘boring option’! The other half also made an excellent choice with his hake, with a perfectly crispy skin, nestled on a bed of delicious tomato,  kidney bean and chorizo stew.

Of course no weekend in Haworth would be complete without at least one trip to a tea room for some restorative cake.

I even managed to earn an extra gold star by finding a tea room serving local ale! Sticky apple cake and a pot of earl grey tea for me, twice baked vanilla cheese cake and a pint of Blacksheep for the boy  – everyone’s a winner! And just look at this adorable milk jug!

Fat free chocolate cake… well, sort of!

The other half and I were craving something sweet earlier this week but I didn’t want to be too naughty. I had a rummage around the kitchen, we had no proper butter and no eggs. We did however have an incredibly ripe avocado that needed using. (Having been away for the weekend and left my male counterpart to do the weekly shop, I have a lot of extra items that need using. Why buy just one avocado when you can buy a family pack right?!). I suddenly remembered watching saw random ‘raw food movement’ type programme on television a while ago. A very enthusiastic woman told us incredulous viewers that she was going to make a raw chocolate cake. Using avocado as a substitute for butter. So I took to Google and had a look at some recipes. It was quickly established that neither did we have the required array of ingredients nor was the other half likely to eat a flour-less raw chocolate cake. He was, however, willing to try a slightly less radical version.

So I decided to make the following recipe which I found online

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  • 2 cups sugar (the recipe didn’t specify but presumed this was caster)
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1 large very ripe avocado, well mashed
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease cake tins.

Sift all the dry ingredients, except the sugar, together.

Mix all the wet ingredients together, including the avocado. I used a food processor to make sure it was really well mixed. Add the sugar into the wet ingredients and beat well with a whisk.

Looking pretty good, huh? Just like a normal chocolate cake mix? I, of course, had to sample a little at this stage, all in the name of research and all that… And can report that it was delicious! Nice and chocolately but not too sweet or rich, yummy! Very more-ish, infact….

Bowl licked clean…

Now, I must admit readers, I don’t often make a foray into the world of baking. This is for two reasons really. Firstly, I dread to think what size I would be if I baked regularly, I definitely don’t have enough restraint to have one little taste then give all the rest to the neighbours/friends/work colleagues (what’s the point in all that work, and more importantly, all those dishes?!) Secondly, while it may be a cliche, the kind of people who like experimenting with cooking and throwing together random ingredients tend to be a bit more ‘creative’ when it comes to specifics and measurements. I like to improvise. I am not very good at being precise and actually measuring things… Anyway, once the mixture is ready, pour into cake tins… here I showed my lack of baking experience. We could only find one of our cake tins. So I decided to whack the whole mixture into one. Big Mistake.

This of course meant the cake hadn’t cooked in the proscribed time (30 t0 40 minutes). We left it in a bit longer but the outside was beginning to burn so had to take it out.

As you can see, as a result of the one tin error, the cake had risen rather dramatically and did not look very pretty… it also meant that while we had to take it out as the outside was beginning to burn, the very middle was still chocolately gloop. Tasty warm gooey chocolately gloop. We had accidentally created a melt-in-the-middle chocolate avocado pudding! And it was actually rather tasty! So baking disasters can still turn out relatively ok!

We did not have the time or ingredients to make the avocado frosting to go with it, but here’s what the recipe called for;

  • 2 small to medium very ripe avocados
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
I think I will have to try this again, in a less slap dash manor, and give the icing a go. I think it would also be nice with a chocolate icing or maybe even a mint one…
Just need to find the next excuse for baking!