Donairs (Recipe from More Than Poutine by Marie Porter)

Marie Porter’s latest cookbook More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from My Home and Native Land resonated with me in many ways. Obviously it’s all about food but it’s Canadian recipes written by a fellow expat. When I made the move to the UK, first London then Cambridge, I was delighted to meet so many fellow Canadians in the same boat as me. We all miss our favourite foods, the ones we grew up on, that gave us joy and shared with loved ones. The cookbook features a lot of comfort foods, which is a nice reflection of these feelings of nostalgia.

The book’s title really hits the nail on the head. Poutine may be the Canadian specialty that first springs to mind but the cookbook is very well researched and spans over 120 recipes from all over Canada. Rest assured there is a great poutine recipe, complete with homemade gravy. The book also includes other well-known Canadian foods such as butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, tourtière and lobster rolls.

The recipes begin with a few explanatory words, as Canada is so diverse not all Canadians might know the dishes. The cookbook isn’t only for expats though, there’s enough interesting information for those living in Canada who want to expand their Canadian cooking repertoire. It’s also a great introduction to Canadian cuisine for anyone eager to learn more about Canada’s unique and varied culture.

The recipes’ measurements are provided in both US and metric units, with a more detailed conversions section at the end of the book.

It’s also worth noting that there is a focus on providing gluten-free alternatives to the recipes so the book is a good resource for those avoiding gluten.

With recipes classed into the following categories: Breakfast & Brunch, Appetizers & Sides, Snack Foods, Main Dishes, Jiggs Dinner (Sunday Dinner in Newfoundland), Beverages & Condiments and Desserts, the cookbook covers a lot of territory, both in the geographic and culinary sense. All of my favourites are in the book: Bannock, Montreal Style Bagels, Montreal Smoked Meat, Maple Snow Taffy, French Canadian Pea Soup and Bloody Caesar (Bloody Mary’s Canadian cousin). There are even accurate replicas of Jos Louis cake rounds, Oh Henry! chocolate bars and Swiss Chalet/St-Hubert BBQ sauce, although for trademarks reasons the recipe names had to be changed. It’s fun figuring out the inspiration behind the creative titles.

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Ox – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

I travelled to Belfast twice over a four-week period and was wowed by the foodie scene. I shared my Belfast exploits through my #one2Belfast hashtag on Instagram and clearly there was no shortage of fabulous restaurants, cafes and bars for me to explore. Not to diminish the other wonderful places I visited but I just have to share my experience at Ox, an amazing Michelin starred restaurant near the Belfast Waterfront.

Paulo and I managed to squeeze in lunch at Ox before catching our flight back to Stansted. We booked a table ahead of time and were delighted that the timing fit in with our work and travel schedules.

Ox looked a bit dark and unassuming from the outside but once we entered, the small restaurant was flooded with natural light from the double-height picture windows. We took in the beautiful decor with its high ceiling, serene shade of blue, modern light fixtures and wooden church chairs (with prayer book holders on the back).

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The Architect – Cambridge (UK)

I first wrote about The Architect in 2014 (here) when it re-opened, following an extensive refurbishment and change of name (it was previously the County Arms). The Architect’s independent tenancy changed recently and after closing for a spruce up and menu overhaul, the pub has had another re-opening.

Cambridgeshire locals Luke Edwards and Stuart Tuck, who now run this great pub in Castle Hill, retained The Architect’s name, logo and many of the beautifully designed features, such as the bar and fireplaces. They bring with them their combined experience running The Blue Lion, a successful and award-winning pub in Hardwick, which they now run alongside The Architect.

The Architect has a completely different vibe and is the only pub in Cambridge dedicated to fish & chips and pie & mash. Architects are designers so the pub’s “design your own meal” concept is quite fitting.

For starters or just snacks with drinks, the menu features options to design your own sharing board. There is even a scotch egg taster which includes three different types (classic, smoked haddock and spiced falafel) with half pint beer pairings.

The main courses focus on two pub classics – fish & chips and pie & mash – but the innovative options give the menu a real twist. The menu is a great visual guide through the various combinations. There is lots of choice and the fish & chips combinations offer more than just fish, with vegetarian options such as halloumi and seasonal veggies.

The fabulous bar – a must for any pub – offers a great range of gins, craft beers and guest ales, which can be enjoyed with a meal or in one of the pub’s cosy areas.

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Tamburlaine Restaurant and Bar – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge’s Tamburlaine hotel opened last March to a lot of fanfare, particularly their launch party (which I missed due to illness). There was a great buzz about the place, bringing some life to the developing area by the train station.

The hotel’s stylish rooms and venues certainly have the wow factor. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and I did pop into their stunning bar a while back and really enjoyed their cocktails.

I had read conflicting reports about the restaurant so Paulo and I decided to try it for ourselves. We visited on a Wednesday evening without a reservation. There was no need as the restaurant was fairly empty. We were warmly welcomed and given a choice of nice tables by the window, near the open kitchen.

The Brasserie-style dining room is elegant and quite large, almost a little too large for any kind of warm ambience. Still, additional people in the room would have made for a more intimate experience but it looked like the other diners were lone hotel guests who didn’t feel like venturing into Cambridge’s busier areas.

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Cambridge Cocktail Weekend 2017 – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend is back for a second year, taking place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange 25 to 27 August 2017. The event was founded by Muddle and Mint to highlight the cocktail offering in Cambridge. It features a selection of Cambridge cocktail bars showcasing a menu of classic, signature and cutting edge cocktails. Local spirit and liqueur producers as well as premium national brands are on board too, giving attendees the opportunity to discover what they can do with their products

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend also offers an educational and interactive experience through workshops, masterclasses, live music and the WFA World Championship Grand Slam Competition where the world’s best flair bartenders compete in the art of juggling bar equipment to entertain and make great cocktails. Cambridge has the honour of hosting the fifth of seven annual Grand Slams held across the world.

Paulo and I attended on Friday, the opening day. There were ten bars selling cocktails and Nanna Mexico served up a variety of dishes made with nachos.

The little booklet prepared by Cambridge Cocktail Weekend, called a compendium, was well put together and contained all the information required for the event. We could peruse each bar’s cocktail menu and take our pick. It was a difficult choice to make! Some of the bartenders were happy to talk us through their cocktails, which helped us decide. The compendium also listed the masterclasses and workshops. Belvedere vodka ran two very popular ones on Friday.

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The Muddlers Club – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

Tucked away in a back street of Belfast’s vibrant and bustling Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club is a real find. The place is steeped in history as it’s named after the secret society that used to meet there over 200 years ago.

Passageways illustrated with street art lead to an industrial building displaying fairy lights and a welcoming sign.

Its hidden location suggests an air of secrecy and exclusivity, yet The Muddlers Club is friendly and informal. A snooty place it isn’t but make no mistake, the food is top class yet reasonably priced for its exceptional quality.

The cool industrial-style décor, with its muted greys and exposed ducts, is complemented by the warm tones of the wooden floors, tables and chairs. The restaurant is dimly lit with light coming from the large windows, open kitchen, modern chandeliers and flickering candles.

The Muddlers Club offers a small, focused menu with fresh, local ingredients at the forefront. The dishes don’t have names. They are described by their ingredients which makes the presentation a surprise, especially the desserts. The dishes are simple but they’re meticulously prepared. Every single item we ordered was a work of art!

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Texas Style Smoked Beef Brisket

Paulo has been honing his BBQ skills ever since we got our Big Green Egg last year. Smoking a whole beef brisket is the ultimate challenge and he decided to do it Texas style, following the method of legendary pitmaster Aaron Franklin. After all, the brisket trend originated in Texas and barbecue beef brisket is considered their national dish.

It’s important to note that US brisket is different to what we know as brisket in the UK, namely a rolled and tied cut of meat that is slow roasted in the oven. Cattle breeds in the UK are smaller so the brisket needs to be treated more delicately as it’s less able to endure heat and doesn’t have the protective fat content and connective tissue for the cooking process. Brisket from the USA is larger, juicier and more stable.

Brisket comes from the cow’s lower chest area, which has coarse muscle fibres that are tightly bound together so it’s a notoriously difficult cut of meat to get right. Get it wrong and it will be tough and hard. Brisket should be cooked low and slow in a smoker as it breaks down the connective tissue for a juicy, tender result. It’s very time-consuming but so worth it for smoky, smooth, buttery brisket with a soft, sticky crust (bark) packed with flavour!

The whole brisket, known as a “packer cut” in the US, comes vacuum packed and is left untrimmed. More on trimming the fat later but in essence, the fat helps keep the brisket moist during the cooking process. The whole brisket includes the point (the thicker, fattier end) and the flat (the flatter, leaner end). Some cooks separate the two for better control over the cooking but we did it Franklin style.

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Hot Numbers – Gwydir Street, Cambridge (UK)

In 2011 coffee shop Hot Numbers opened its first location at Dale’s, the decommissioned brewery on Gwydir Street just off Cambridge’s vibrant Mill Road. Combining owner Simon Fraser’s love for coffee and music, Hot Numbers was named after the former record store in neighbouring Kingston Street (check out the restored mural/ghost sign there).

Since then, Hot Numbers has firmly established itself as an independent specialty coffee company with the addition of a roastery, a coffee wholesale business, a second site on Trumpington Street and an extensive refurbishment at the original location. Hot Numbers hosts a variety of musical, artistic and foodie events such as live music, vinyl listening nights, art exhibitions and weekly food trucks. A unique spot in Cambridge, Hot Numbers delivers the whole package as a place for social interaction, fuelled by quality coffee, drinks and food. It’s firmly on its way to becoming a Cambridge institution.

It’s evident that Hot Numbers strives for progress and maintains a competitive edge, as any good business would do. After all, at one time Mill Road was severely lacking in quality food and drink establishments but it is thriving now. Not resting on its laurels, Hot Numbers has recently developed an exciting new brunch menu for their Gwydir Street location that stands out from run-of-the-mill offerings. It’s a bold move rendered possible by completely changing the kitchen and bringing in a development chef/consultant so the food can be made in-house. The result strikes the perfect balance between innovation and familiarity. It’s an inventive menu that elevates the humble brunch from the norm yet still retains familiar elements.

It all kicks off at 7:30am with “breakfasty” options available till 11am. Choose from apricot yoghurt panna cotta with roasted peaches and granola, coconut milk porridge with raspberries, as well as freshly baked cornbread with three choices for toppings (honey & goats cheese, raspberries & Greek yoghurt and peaches & whipped ricotta).

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Supper Club 22 “Un peu de soirée française” at The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Plough in Shepreth, a lovely village in South Cambridgeshire that lies halfway between Cambridge and Royston, is one of those places that has something for everyone. Good food and drink, great people, fun events, live music, art exhibitions… the list goes on! It’s only a 5-minute walk from Shepreth railway station and easily accessible from Cambridge, so there’s no excuse not to visit!

Photo courtesy of The Plough

I’ve blogged about The Plough’s events and food, most recently about their Sunday Lunch, a partnership with catering company Boxed Events. For the past few months there’s been another collaboration between The Plough’s Nick Davis and Boxed Events’ owner/chef James Knight: Supper Club 22, a monthly dinner with 22 people gathered around two tables to share a themed menu and listen to live jazz. And at the price of £22 per person, it’s extremely good value!

Supper Club 22 is held in the Mandolin bar where there is a stage for local jazz musicians. The space is large enough to accommodate the 22 guests but small enough to encourage the communal experience of a supper club. The cosy and chilled out ambience is enhanced by the warm glow of sparkly gin bottles and the mellow sounds of live jazz piano and guitar.

I attended their inaugural supper club in March (a delicious Asian-inspired menu) and another called “Kilners, Verrines and Terrines” in May, serving terrines and other dishes in glasses and jars. I missed their “Starsky & Hutch” 70s retro dinner!

July’s Supper Club 22, titled “Un peu de soirée française”, featured a classic French menu. Before my francophone friends and family point out the dodgy français, rest assured I did mention to Nick that the correct French is “une petite soirée française”. We both had a giggle over it and I came to the conclusion that his version has charm… a bit of Del Boy French. C’est la crème de la menthe, n’est-ce pas? Ooh la la!

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Soboro Bakery – Cambridge (UK)

Soboro Bakery is the latest venture by Dong Hyun Kim, owner of Wasabi, Kimchee and Kimchee To Go. After what seemed like an eternity waiting for the empty unit in the Lion Yard to open, Cambridge finally has the honour of being Soboro Bakery’s very first location.

It was worth the wait. The shop is beautifully designed and well laid out. Its minimalist décor offers clean lines and muted tones. There’s a good feeling about the place: it’s bright, cheerful and welcoming.

Taking its name from the classic Korean sweet bun, Soboro Bakery is very much a reflection of its founder Dong Hyun Kim who was born in Korea, learned his trade in Japan and makes London his home. The website states that Soboro is “based on the fine traditions of Japanese and Korean bakery” but it also offers many British favourites so it’s not strictly an Asian bakery. Actually it’s not just a bakery either. It’s more like a café as it serves sandwiches, soups, salads and yogurt pots in addition to its wide selection of buns, doughnuts, cakes, pastries, muffins, tarts, danish and cookies.

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