Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

There’s certainly a foodie vibe going on around Cambridge the moment, as demonstrated by the number of supperclubs and food-related events happening locally and new eateries opening across the City. Many different tastes and cuisines are catered for, and now there’s a new pop up in town – the Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

Veggie Pub Grub Pop UpThis new venture is the brainchild of Sam Dyer and Jennie Debenham, both known locally for their love of vegan food. Starting Monday 24th February, the pop up will run for six weeks at the Alexandra Arms on Gwydir Street, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 6-9pm. The menu promises a whole host of vegetarian and vegan food delights, as well as gluten-free options.  Sam and Jennie are trying to source their food locally, including having their bread created for them by Bread On A Bike. You can just turn up on the night, but word is already spreading fast so it’s advisable to book in advance – just call The Alex on (01223) 324448.

Famed locally for her delicious vegan cupcakes, Sam is no stranger to the local food scene – she has run her own catering business, Mouth Music, as well as the kitchen at Arjuna on Mill Road, she has supplied food to hungry hordes of volunteers over the years at events such as Strawberry Fair and has also been part of the team behind the Wild Thyme Community Cafe. Jennie is also known for her food exploits and created the Liberated Feast – a vegan banquet that sources food from surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste (look out for the next one on 6th April!).

More information about Sam and Jennie’s menu will be revealed on their facebook page later this week, but I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview yesterday and can tell you that it is going to be delicious – I’m not even a veggie, but my mouth was watering when I heard about the dishes planned for the menu! Right, I’m off to book a table… .

Sam & Jennie’s Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up
Monday & Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm (runs Mon 24th February – Tuesday 25th March)
The Alexandra Arms, 22-24 Gwydir Street CB1 2LL. Tel: (01223) 324448

Mill Road Winter Fair

shoplocalsmallbusiness satToday is Small Business Saturday, Shop Local Saturday and also of course the busiest and best day in the Mill Road calendar – Mill Road Winter Fair! The event, which began in 2005 and is now held on the first Saturday of each December, has been in the planning for many months and will see residents, shops and the local community coming together to celebrate the area and all that it has to offer.

The Fair is well known for its musical delights and this year looks set to be no exception. If you were on the bridge at last years Fair you may well have felt the earth move whilst watching The Brass Funkeys – there were reports that the bridge was, quite literally, shaking as people danced and enjoyed themselves! This year you can find the band hosting ‘The Brass Funkeys presents…’ outside Code Hairdressers on Mill Road, as part of Code’s Christmas Cracker. The band will be playing at around 3pm and during the day you can also catch Wil Buchanon, Thudbox, Live and Let Funk and Balkanoes on the stage. Code will also be serving mulled wine and cider and there’ll be lots of other activities including vintage hairdos and facepainting.

MRWFJC 3All along Mill Road there will be lots of other performers and musicians throughout the day, including the Jackson Creek Band at 2pm by the Avenue of Limes whilst at the same time The Scissors are playing at Ditchburn Gardens and The Centimes will be at Gwydir Street Car park. Argyle Street Housing Co-operative will also be hosting their much loved Winter Fair stage, with music from 11am – including the Arco Iris Samba Band at 13:40, Dave Crow Barr at 15:00, Jam Band Caravan at 16:00 and Fara Fiddle at 17:00. This will culmiate in an ASH Co-op Jam on the stage around 18:30. As well as music, ASH Co-op car park will of course also be playing host to a range of stalls selling festive gifts and goodies, second hand goods and plenty of books.

Other activities include a Craft Market at the drama studio on Covent Garden, where you can find The Map Project team and lots of art and craft stalls. There will also be a Winter Wardrobe Fashion Show at the Salisbury Club on Mill Road, the Cambridge Lindy Hoppers dancing in the streets of Romsey and the Carnival Parade – which will be setting off from the town end of Mill Road around 12:15 before making its way down to Coleridge Road.

MRWF JC 2One of the great things about Mill Road Winter Fair is being able to wander between all the different shops, many of whom are offering homemade food and drink on stalls outside. There will also be a number of food stalls at Gwydir Street Car Park, including Mr Cake – he’s the chap that made the papers last year when he left his job by icing his resignation letter onto a cake!

With so much going on, there’s bound to be something to suit just about everyone. Hope everyone has a great Fair! :o)

A slice of the action…

Taank Optometrists opened on Mill Road in 2003 and this year they are celebrating not only ten years of the practice but also one hundred years of there being an optometrists practice at the very same site. To mark the centenary, Taank decided to host a Bake Off on Saturday, with professionals and amateurs invited to make cakes along a glasses theme…

Stilt WalkerWith special guest David Baddiel set to judge the contest, alongside owner Anjana Taank, I knew that the day would be an entertaining one. I had been tempted to enter the Bake Off myself (though I’m not quite sure how the blog headline ‘David Baddiel at my cake‘ would have gone down…) but time factors meant it was going to be a bit too rushed. However, being at a Bake Off on Parkers Piece on a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon felt like a very appropriate and ‘Cambridge’ thing to do and lots of passers by dropped in, as well as of course the bakers themselves and eager friends and families keen to see who would be crowned star baker. In fact there was a slightly surreal moment when I looked out of the marquee and saw people carrying cake boxes and slowly walking towards the marquee from all directions on Parkers Piece!

David BaddielWhen David Baddiel arrived he was more than happy to pose for photos and sign books brought along by fans. He admitted that the Bake Off was his first such event and that it probably wouldn’t do his waistline much good, but he and Anjana soon got in to the swing of judging the contest and quizzing the entrants about their cake designs and ingredients. There were lots of cakes to get through and so I reasured myself that not baking had actually been a good call – I don’t think David or Anjana would have thanked me if they’d had to eat any more cake!

Dame Edna inspired cakeI was intrigued as to what kind of designs people would come up with, but I have to say that every single one of the cakes looked fantastic and temptingly delicious. One of my favourites was a Dame Edna themed cake made by a lady called Christine – it was beautifully made with intricate icing designs and came complete with obligatory outlandish purple glasses, in fact I tweeted about it over the weekend and even had the real Dame Edna Everage spot it and favourite my tweet!

Despicable Me CakeThe Wooden Spoon award went to Paul Mearman, who made a cake in the shape of a glasses case, and the runner up was Reuben Daly who made an amazingly colourful multi-layered cake aptly called ‘The Spectrum’. The winner was Fiona McDuff (who some of you may know as the winner of the Cambridge Bake Off earlier this year) who made an absolutely amazing Despicable Me minion cake, complete with eye chart, Taank Optometrists logo and ‘100 Years’ glasses. She had obviously put a lot of effort in to getting it perfect and explained that the main part of the cake was made with around twelve layers! I had never seen anything quite like it before and she was a most deserving winner.

David Baddiel did a great job of judging and entertaining us all throughout, in fact I suspect he’d have a very promising new career should he ever decide to diversify into cake comedy (I adore Mel & Sue, but perhaps he could stand in when one of them is off sick…?). It was a great day out and a unique way to celebrate the centenary, and next time there’s a Bake Off near me I’m definitely entering…!

Blog birthday giveaway!

There's something about Mill Road...I’m not quite sure where the time has gone, but it’s now been over a year since ‘There’s something about Mill Road’ entered the blogosphere! It started as a hobby that I hoped a few people might read from time to time, but I have been – and continue to be – amazed by just how much interest there has been in my ramblings, not just from the Mill Road area itself and Cambridge, but across the UK and even beyond.

My first post was about, erm, chocolate; and since then I’ve written about all sorts of Mill Road related things – from events, books and recipes to community projects, photography and the particularly popular topic of our local pubs. Thank you so much to everyone who has read any of my posts, been following me on Twitter or who keeps up to date via my Facebook page – there wouldn’t be much point without you! As a thank you to all you lovely people I wanted to offer the chance to win a lovely Mill Road prize, so I’ve decided to do a special giveaway. Those of you who have been following the blog may have noticed my penchant for pubs, food and art, so I thought what better than a prize combining all three…

Earl of BeaconsfieldSince the Earl of Beaconsfield changed hands last year, the pub has been transformed into the place to be for music, with weekly events including the Monday night Open Mic sessions and regular Saturday night gigs – tomorrow you can catch the Watertight Jazz group and on 17th August following on from the Great Eastern Street Party, you can catch The Great Eastern Street Preachers. They have successfully carried on the tradition of serving the best pint of Guinness in Cambridge (which you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve tested and personally verified, all in the name of research…!) and also now do sumptuous stone-baked pizzas. Susie & Matt at the Beaconsfield have very kindly offered £30 of vouchers for the giveaway!

FrameworksFrameworks have been catering to the picture framing needs of Cambridge artists and art lovers for over twenty years and moved to their Mill Road home back in 2011, but what may be less well known is that they offer free mountboard to local school and charity groups. I love that every two weeks there’s a new exhibition to look at in their window – one of my favourites has been food artist Jimi Kazak – and during the Romsey Art Festival (which runs until 17th August) you can see the work of local artist Sarah Blake. The lovely chaps at Frameworks have offered a £20 voucher for the giveaway!

ONE LUCKY PERSON WILL WIN:
2 x £10 vouchers for the Earl of Beaconsfield, each voucher entitling the recipient to one of their delicious stone-baked pizzas plus a pint/glass of wine/soft drink AND
1 x £20 voucher for Frameworks, for the recipient to spend at their picture framing shop on Mill Road.

THERE WILL ALSO BE A RUNNER-UP PRIZE OF:
– A £10 voucher for the Earl of Beaconsfield, entitling the recipient to a stone-baked pizza and drink.

To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is one of the following:
1. Subscribe to this blog (which means you’ll be the first to hear about new blog posts, as you’ll receive a notification email) before the closing date, by entering your email address in the ‘Follow this blog’ section, near the top right of the home page. To let me know that you want this to count as your entry into the competition (or if you’re already following the blog) please add a comment at the bottom of this blog post (or instead of a comment you can send an email to theressomethingaboutmillroad@hotmail.co.uk) by the closing date.
OR
2. Follow me on Twitter and retweet any of my Twitter posts marked #MillRoadGiveaway – only applies to posts on/before 21st August (you can retweet more than one post if you like, but it will only count as one entry for the draw).
OR
3. If you want to double your chances you can do both of the above! 🙂

So if you’ve acquired some art at the Romsey Art Festival and need to get it framed, or you’re looking for the perfect excuse to pop to the pub – why not enter the giveaway. Good luck! 🙂

Rules: This giveaway is open to UK residents only and the winners will be independently drawn at random from all those who have completed step 1, 2 or 3 above by the closing date. Entry is free. Automated entries not accepted. The closing date is Wednesday 21st August at 11:59pm. The draw will take place within seven days of the closing date. When notified of their win, the prize winners will need to provide a UK postal address for their prizes to be sent to. In the event of being unable to contact the winner/s within fourteen days of the draw, another winner/s will be drawn. By entering the draw, entrants agree that in the event of them winning the competition their name and city/town can be published on this blog (and associated accounts on Twitter and Facebook).

Chocolate fudge sponge cake

I decided to make a chocolate fudge sponge cake on Sunday, as a Father’s Day present for my Dad. It was my first chocolate sponge but after the success of my other recent cakes I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult. I already had the fudge chunks in the cupboard and was able to get the rest of the ingredients on Mill Road. Although most of the chocolate sponge cake recipes I looked at suggested cocoa powder, after discovering this handy conversion table I decided to use melted chocolate instead…

Chocolate fudge sponge cakeIngredients
175g dark chocolate
125g softened butter
200g sugar
180g self raising flour
2 eggs
100ml milk
30g miniature fudge pieces
White icing (optional)

Melted chocolateI set the oven to gas mark 4 and started by lining the base of a buttered nine inch cake tin with a large sheet of greaseproof paper, adding a little more butter to the paper too. I then broke up a 100g bar of dark chocolate into chunks (it’s easier to do this before you open the packet!) and melted the pieces in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. I stirred this continuously while it melted and made sure that the bottom of the bowl didn’t touch the water and also that the chocolate didn’t boil. This took just a couple of minutes and I then set the chocolate aside to cool.

Sponge cakeI mixed 75g of soft butter and 50g of the cooled melted chocolate with 200g of sugar, before beating two eggs (one at a time) into the mixture. I then added 180g of flour, 100ml of milk and the remaining melted chocolate to my mixture – alternating between adding a little of each of the three ingredients and making sure I mixed thoroughly between adding each. I gave this another thorough mix for a couple of minutes before stirring in about 30g of mini fudge chunks. I poured the mixture into my lined cake tin and levelled with my new KBF (kitchen best friend!) – the spatula – before popping in the centre of the oven.

Chocolate fudge sponge cakeI’d normally expect one of my cakes to take about twenty minutes to bake, but this particular one took thirty before my skewer test was sucecssful. I set the cake aside to cool for a good twenty minutes before removing from the tin – which was easily done as I’d made sure the greaseproof paper lining was about 1cm bigger than the tin all the way round the edge. I let the cake cool for another half hour before making my cholcolate icing – this was made by melting another 75g of dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan and allowing to cool for ten minutes, before mixing in 50g of softened butter. After mixing thoroughly for a couple of minutes it was lovely and shiny in texture. I drizzled the rich chocolate icing over the cake, starting in the middle and working out to the sides – levelling off with a spatula.

chocolate fudge sponge cakeThe cake looked delicious covered in its rich chocolate icing, but it needed ‘Dadifying’ for its presentation later in the afternoon, so I used some white icing for the lettering and scattered a few more pieces of fudge over the cake. The cake went down a treat, with my Dad managing a whole three slices (!) in a matter of minutes. I shall definitely be making this cake again – next time double layered!

Strawberry drizzle sponge cake

After the local (well, neighbourly) success of my ‘Five a day’ cake on Sunday, I decided to have a go at making another cake with some of my left over ingredients. After much indecision, I opted for a strawberry drizzle sponge…

Strawberry drizzle sponge cake...Ingredients
125g butter
200g granulated sugar
2 eggs
180g self-raising flour
150ml semi-skillmed milk
175g icing sugar
2 tablespoons of water
Zest of 1/4 lemon
5 strawberries

I preheated the oven to gas mark 4 and greased one 20cm baking tin with butter, covering the base with a circle of greaseproof paper. I then creamed together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl before beating in the two eggs (one at a time). I added a little milk then a little flour, and so on until I had used all the milk and flour. I then added the zest of quarter of a lemon, as well as three chopped up strawberries, to the mixture. I poured the mixture into the cake tin and put in the oven to bake for twenty minutes. When I checked on the cake the skewer test worked, so I removed from the oven and left the cake on the side to cool for a good twenty minutes.

Strawberry cake, before the drizzle...

The cake looked and smelled delicious and I was tempted to just dust with a little icing sugar, but I still had some strawberries to use up so opted for the original plan of drizzly icing and fresh strawberries. I mixed 175g of icing sugar with about two tablespoons of water – making sure I carefully added the water just a few drops at a time to get the right consistency. After a good mix I drizzled the icing over the cake, starting in the centre and working out to the sides. I then cut two strawberries into four pieces each and arranged on top of the cake.

strawberry drizzle sponge cake...

This cake was really easy to make and pretty quick too. The initial preparation of the cake mixture took just twenty minutes and then it was just a matter of baking for twenty minutes, cooling for twenty minutes and then preparing the icing and decoration, which took – you guessed it – about twenty minutes. It tasted lovely and moist and with a hint of lemon but a definite strawberry taste throughout… and I think I may just have found my signature sponge cake.

‘Five a day’ cake

Not that I need an excuse to bake, but yesterday was World Baking Day and I decided that it was about time I got more adventurous with my cakes. With my staples already purchased, I went to Hilary’s on Mill Road to get some fruit – a lemon, some large oranges, blueberries, strawberries and cherries (my bargain tip is the strawberries – just £1.25 a punnet!). I wasn’t sure yet quite what I was going to create, but all the fruit looked colourful and I was determined to use all of it in some way or another.

After looking at various sponge cake recipes I decided to base mine on this one, as it was for moist sponge cake – my last cake turned out a little drier than I had hoped. Instead of the vanilla extract I used fresh lemon juice.

Ingredients for '5-a-day' cakeIngredients
225g butter
400g fairtrade granulated sugar
4 eggs
310g self-raising flour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Oranges & a lemon
Strawberries
Blueberries
Cherries

I preheated the oven to gas mark 4 and although the recipe says it’s for making three layers, I decided to hold off on greasing and lining my cake tins until I had made the mixture. I mixed the butter and sugar together thoroughly before beating in my eggs (one at a time). I then mixed the milk with some juice from the lemon (about a tablespoon), and added this liquid to my mixture – alternating between adding a little liquid then a little flour. Although I have an electric whisk, I didn’t use it and instead just beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon – there were a few tiny lumps of flour in the mixture, but I vaguely remembered that Mary Berry had said (during the Great British Bake Off) something about this being fine and in fact making the recipe better.

I had three cake tins but none were the same size and even though I borrowed a couple from neighbours I still couldn’t find two to match, so I used two similar ones – there was quite a bit of mixture, but not enough to comfortably fill three cake tins. I lined and greased the tins adding half of the mixture to each before putting in the oven. The recipe had said that they would take about 20 minutes to bake, though it was about 40 minutes before they looked ready (I guess it may have baked quicker if I’d used three tins). I did the skewer test (inserting a skewer into the cake, it comes out clean if the cake is ready) and although a little sticky I decided that it was fine as the cake was a lovely golden brown and in any case I wanted a moist cake. I removed the sides of the cake tins, though not the bases and then set aside to cool for about twenty minutes.

Homemade orange marmaladeThis gave me time to make some orange marmalade. I grated the zest of the orange into a separate bowl first (as I would need this later for the buttercream icing) and then cut the orange in half and scooped out the fruit from inside (turning each orange half inside out seemed a good way to do this). I then cut the fruit finely and discarded any large white bits. I heated my finely cut fruit in a small saucepan, adding a couple of tablespoons of water and after about ten minutes of simmering I added about 200g of sugar – I didn’t measure the fruit or sugar, but the general rule for jams seems to be using equal amounts of suagr and fruit. I simmered this on a high heat for another ten minutes – stirring regularly – and then put a teaspoonful on a plate in the fridge. After a couple of minutes it wrinkled when prodded, so I knew the marmalade was ready.

I carefully removed the cakes from their bases using a fish slice and spread a layer of marmalade over each. I mixed up some buttercream icing by combining 250g of butter with 550g of icing sugar before adding the orange zest I’d set aside earlier. I smeared some over the marmaladed bottom layer of my cake before placing the other layer of cake on top. I then spent a good twenty minutes smearing the rest of the buttercream icing all over the cake, making sure the sides and top were covered. This looked delicious, but not particularly healthy! So I added the remaining fruit – strawberries, blueberries and cherries – as decoration.

Five a day cakeI had never made anything as visually pleasing before and have to admit I was rather proud of my creation. I had planned to take some round to my neighbours, however all but three slices didn’t even make it out of my kitchen as word began to spread that a cake was being made. A friend said I should call it a ‘Five a day’ cake as it contains five different fruits – though you’d probably need to eat more than a whole cake to actually get your official five a day, so I’d advise against relying on it for dietary RDA’s (!). It tasted delicious and the sponge was lovely and lemony as well as perfectly moist. I will probably use the same sponge cake recipe next time, perhaps with about 40-50g more flour, though I’m definitely a few steps closer to creating my own signature sponge base – and once I’ve got that perfected, I can really have fun with the decoration!

Blooming delicious

I’d been promising myself for quite some time that I would learn how to make bread, so when I spotted that 16th – 22nd April was National Bread Week it felt like it was now or never…

Odlums flour millMy grandmother used to buy Odlums flour by the 10-stone bag and baked some 50,000+ loaves of bread in her lifetime – not because she ran a bakery, but because everyone baked their own bread every day in the rural farming village where she lived. So in the vague hope that some of the bread-making genes might have passed on to me, I asked my Mum for the soda bread recipe that both she and my grandmother used. One of the ingredients was buttermilk, but we had to wait overnight for Al Amin to get some delivered (thanks to Spice Gate – who also sell it – for pointing me in Al Amin’s direction as they were out of stock), so we decided to make a traditional Danish bloomer first.

Danish BloomerI had wondered what exactly a Danish bloomer was, though – as I was reliably informed by the half-Danish Mr Mill Road – bloomers originated in Denmark. So armed with our recipe (see left) we set about adding the yeast to 100 ml of the water and giving it a good mix. We then sieved the flour into a large bowl and  added the salt, before making a well in the centre. The yeast blend was added and also the remaining 340ml of water, before combining with a wooden spoon. After a couple of minutes it was time to get our hands dirty and we moulded it until a dough consistency was formed. We then dusted the worktop with some plain flour before kneading it for a good ten minutes; and although it had felt a little sticky at first, it soon reached the right texture as we began kneading. I could attempt to explain how to knead dough, but Paul Holloywood does it much better in this one-minute video.

After our ten-minute biceps workout (that’s what it felt like!) we shaped the dough into a slightly flattened ball and placed in a plastic bowl before covering with cling film. The bowl then went into the warm airing cupboard for a good hour, though we did excitedly check on it several times in the interim. We could see the dough had risen (though not quite doubled in size – as we’d hoped it would) and it was now time for our next ten-minute kneading session. The dough then went back in the cupboard for another hour, which was just enough time for us to pop out for a pint (well, April is Community Pubs Month!)

Danish BloomerWhen we removed the dough from the cupboard we put it in a low flat baking tin and shaped into a bloomer shape, before making five diagonal cuts across the middle with a knife. At this point, a friend popped over for an unexpected cuppa and it fortuitously transpired that in a former life he had been a baker! He explained that resting it in a very warm place for about fifteen minutes before putting it in the oven would help, and so we sat the baking tray in the closed grill area directly above the oven (we had already preheated the oven to gas mark 8 about ten minutes earlier). After the required fifteen minutes we removed it and the outside of the dough was just beginning to change in texture. It went straight in the oven for about twenty five minutes and when we removed it the outer edges were nice and crispy, and when we tapped the base of the bread it sounded hollow (another top tip from our baker friend). The smell of our freshly baked bread was amazing and after letting the bread sit for about half an hour to cool down, it was time to cut our inaugural slice… the texture was perfect and we enjoyed a couple of slices with just butter. The loaf kept well and remained nice and soft in the middle for the three days it took us to eat it all.

Oat bread recipeNext on our agenda was the soda bread. I picked up the buttermilk from Al Amin the following day and we set about preparing our ingredients. Although the recipe that we had used flour and a little oatmeal, for some reason we decided to experiment and use just oatmeal (no flour), so I guess we were making oat bread/cake… We spent a good half hour using a rolling pin to crush the oatmeal into small flour-like grains (another bicep workout!) before putting in a large mixing bowl with the bread soda (which I bought at Arjuna) and salt. We then added the buttermilk – which smelt a little like yoghurt and was thicker in texture than we had expected – and mixed thoroughly to form a dough. As we weren’t using yeast, there was no need to knead the dough or let it rise/prove, so we just rolled it on a well floured worktop for a minute or two in order to shape it into a ball.

Oat cakeThe oven was preheated to gas mark 6. We then placed the oaty dough onto a baking tray and cut a traditional cross in the centre, before putting in the warmed grill area for fifteen minutes (as with our bloomer). It was now ready to go in to the oven. We kept checking on it and after about forty minutes it looked ready, so we removed and did the hollow base test. We then left to cool on a wire rack and waited until the following morning before trying some. It was rather heavy and not at all like soda bread, but neverthless tasty – even more so when lightly toasted with butter and honey.

We had great fun making our bread and will definitely be doing it again, as the eventual plan is to try and bake all our own bread. Though I think it may be a while before we find our own recipe that’s both tasty and quick to make, so for now we’ll just keep on experimenting…

Billy’s

Giant avocadosIf you’ve been following me on Twitter you may have seen me tweeting about the giant avocados at my local shop and if you live in the Mill Road area then you may well already be a customer at Billy’s Mini Market. I met up with Billy for a coffee at Otto’s, to find out more about the man behind the Mini Market…

BillyGiven Billy’s interest in food, it was no surprise that the  conversation quickly got on to cooking. Most of the dishes he makes at home are a fusion of Turkish, Spanish and Indian influences and it’s clear he is passionate about his food as he excitedly tells me about the fresh dough he made for his pizzas every day – he ran a successful pizza restaurant in Littleport for four and a half years. He says it’s hard to choose a favourite pizza himself, but that it would probably be a combination of feta, onion, mushrooms, black olives and cherry tomatoes, with a little spinach and of course herbs and spices… I asked Billy if he would consider setting up another pizza restaurant in Cambridge, but he told me it’s not part of his plans at the moment.

SquashWhen Billy moved to England from Turkey in the 1990’s his first job was running a food and drink shop at Shoreditch’s popular Hoxton Market. He has fond memories of the bustling marketplace and his first experiences of living and working in London. Eventually he moved away from the area before going on to open his pizza restaurant. Many of the restaurant’s customers came from Littleport’s surrounding towns and villages and the nearby RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall bases; and although a successful business Billy had been thinking of opening a shop in the Cambridge area for some time, so when the Mill Road premises (which had previously been home to Balv’s Superette) became available last year it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Billy's Mini MarketBilly stocks a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs & spices, rices, pulses and chilled foods at his shop, not to mention household essentials. But what the shop may be less well known for is its selection of fish – including Tilapia, Red Mullet, Red Snapper, Kingfish, Saltfish and Broom Headlesses – which are kept in a frozen section. As Mill Road doesn’t have a fishmongers as such, I think this is a very welcome addition to the area. Billy’s also stocks a huge range of drinks – both soft drinks and alcoholic – and has saved the day when I’ve needed a good bottle of wine or some Havana Club Anejo Blanco for my daiquiri cocktails!

Billy'sI’ve been a regular visitor to Billy’s Mini Market since it opened in April 2012. The shop is very much part of the community and I usually end up coming away with much more than the usual pint of milk I went in for – just in the last few weeks I’ve debated the current care system, local politics and Mill Road art, all with other customers I didn’t know before; as well as found out about local events. I also usually bump into a couple of my neighbours when I’m in there, so it’s a good place to catch up with people and put the world to rights. Customers from as far away as London regularly visit the shop and one of Billy’s products even got a mention by T’Pau‘s Carol Decker – she had made a Twitter request asking shoppers to post pictures of unusually named products, so she was quick to respond when she received a copy of the above photo.

PotatoesBilly seems to have settled in very well to life on Mill Road, he likes the local community spirit and enjoys being on first name terms with most of his customers. This week Billy is celebrating his first year of trading on Mill Road – which as he himself admits, has flown by very quickly indeed – so if you haven’t visited the shop before now’s a good a time as any to pop in and say hello.

Billy’s Mini Market – 158 Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 3LP
Open seven days a week: Monday to Saturday 9am-11pm, Sunday 11am-10:30pm

To veg or not to veg…

Following on from my recent post mentioning the UN’s revelation that we all need to move towards meat free and dairy free diets if we are to save the planet (gulp!), I’ve been thinking about how easy it would be to become vegetarian or vegan…

PaellaIt can certainly seem like a big challenge – for a start you’re giving up something that probably appears in most if not all of your meals, and of course there’s the task of making your food taste delicious too. I’m not vegetarian at the moment, but I was a ‘veggie’ for a good few years. I had wondered at first if I would miss the meat element of my diet, but I was surprised by just how quickly I began to feel healthier by cutting it out. I started creating my own sauces (rather than opting for shop bought ones) such as pesto and I found that a lot of other sauces were pretty easy to make once I’d perfected the art of the roux. I also re-discovered some ingredients that I had previously dismissed – such as olives, capers and sundried tomatoes – and also began to season/flavour my food more with herbs and spices (paprika became a firm favourite around this time). My friend Mike, who lives in the Mill Road area, recently took on the challenge of becoming vegetarian for a month (or Veguary as it was known) and the photo above is of one of his delicious creations, vegetarian paella.

Butternut SquashIf you’re thinking of going vegetarian and considering using meat substitutes to help you ease into it, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Al Amin. They have an extensive frozen section at the back of the shop with all manner of pies, sausages, chicken and beef substitutes. If you’d prefer not to use meat substitutes then I’d suggest making friends with the butternut squash (and indeed other squashes), they are delicious and great for adding texture to curries, stews and casseroles.

There are a number of shops and eateries on Mill Road that are good to know if you’re planning on becoming vegetarian (or vegan), and with National Vegetarian Week coming up in a few weeks time (20th – 26th May) I’ll be returning to this subject soon with some more of my tips for making it that little bit easier.