Your favourite High Street

The Telegraph newspaper are running a campaign called Reinventing the High Street, aiming to put the heart back into the country’s traditional high streets. People are asked to nominate their favourite simply by emailing highstreet@telegraph.co.uk.

Mill Road BridgeI don’t know about you, but I think there’s something pretty special about Mill Road and I think it deserves a place among the best that the UK has to offer. Not only is the Mill Road area home to Cambridge’s best independent pub, coffee house, home & garden shop, specialist food shop and record shop (all awarded this year in the Discovering Cambridge awards) and home to the Independent Drinks Retailer of The Year (as voted at the UK Drinks Retailing Awards 2013) but it’s also the location of CAMRA‘s Cambridge City Locale Pub Of The Year 2013. There’s a range of events on throughout the year – including the Romsey Art Festival, several street parties, various beer festivals and of course the forthcoming Mill Road Winter Fair – as well as regular music nights at lots of different venues; and next week sees the first ever Romsey Calling music festival on Mill Road.

Mill Road has even been used as a location for music videos (like Mikill Pane’s ‘Good Feeling‘), films (Neil Morrissey was here last month filming a new movie, Caffiend), TV programmes (including Antiques Road Trip) and has had residents such as Douglas AdamsDave Gilmour, Syd Barrett, Angela Hartnett and Amy Williams over the years. It even has its own blog and its own radio show – ‘Our Mill Road‘! There’s lots more I could say about Mill Road, but too much for one blog post (hence the whole blog!) but suffice to say it’s full of community-spirited individuals and groups and has lots of people living, working and socialising in the area and keeping Mill Road the coolest street in Cambridge.

All you need to do to nominate Mill Road is to email highstreet@telegraph.co.uk and let them know! You know what they say – there’s something about Mill Road… .

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!

‘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!

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.

Christmas on a budget…

It’s been a difficult year for many and if you’re on a tight budget you’ll be looking to make whatever savings you can over Christmas. Here are my top Mill Road tips if you’re watching the pennies and are yet to get organised…

TreeDECORATIONS: Sally Ann’s charity shop have Christmas decorations from as little as 10p for a 3-metre long coloured hanging decoration, and it’s also possible to make a small tree very cheaply – fold a piece of A4 card or paper into a cone shape and staple in place, then wrap a length of tinsel around the tree and secure at the top by poking the end of the tinsel through the cone opening. The bottom end can be stapled in place.

FOOD: If you’re not too fussed on whether or not you eat a traditional turkey, you can get a lovely decent sized chicken (serves 4+) for just £4.20 at the Co-operative supermarket (open today until 5pm) though they are often reduced towards the end of the day if they’re about to pass their best before date – so you may be able to get one for as little as £1.50. It’s also worth noting that with most people plumping for turkey, there’s a good chance the chickens may be overlooked. For vegetables go to Hilary’s Greengrocers (opposite the Co-operative) where you should be able to get a good selection of potatoes and other vegetables all for less than £2. As for gravy, I often make my own anyway by simply combining salt, pepper and a few mixed herbs with a little water and the juices from the meat. I have heard that the Salvation Army Day Centre (just next to St Barnabas Church) is doing Christmas dinner on Tuesday and they are open to all and also need volunteers. I don’t know opening/serving times but contact them/pop in to find out.

Pot PouriPRESENTS: The Co-operative have various different chocolate boxes and shortbread gifts for just £1, including after dinner mints. They also do chocolate selection boxes for £2. Kailash has some lovely scented candles and decorative gifts (many coming in at under £1) and they also sell socks – a fail-safe and ‘traditional’ Christmas present! For fruit stocking fillers, try Al-Amin or Hilary’s for clementines/oranges. Arjuna have some gifts ‘reduced to clear’ (see ground level shelf just inside the door, on the left).

Cuddly toysThe Arthur Rank charity shop has cuddly toys and lots of other festive gifts. There’s also the Oxfam charity shop at the town end of Mill Road (open today) – there’s usually all sorts of goodies available and I have picked up some lovely drinking glasses there in the past. In the spirit of ‘new beginnings’ you could opt to give seeds as presents – Cutlacks (open today) have a lovely selection of packet seeds and each has growing instructions on the back. Cutlacks also do all sorts of kooky and colourful kitchen gifts, such as garlic graters, jam jars and mugs. The RSPCA Bookshop (open today and also Monday until midday) has some great books and they are organised into sections so you can easily find books on a common theme – my top tip is the science-fiction section!

Whatever you do, hope you have a lovely Christmas!

Homemade wintery mulled wine

Mulled wineFor those of you contemplating making mulled wine (perhaps after sampling some at the Winter Fair…) here’s my recipe. It should make just over a litre, but you can of course vary the amounts to increase (or decrease) how much wine you get. This was only my first attempt but it was very easy – not to mention successful – so I’ll certainly be making it again. I bought all of the ingredients on Mill Road.

Ingredients:

  • 1 x cinnamon stick
  • A small pinch of ground nutmeg
  • About 15 cloves
  • Around ten small pieces of dried ginger
  • 75g of demerara sugar
  • 75cl bottle of red wine
  • About 300ml of boiling water
  • An orange

Firstly, boil the water in a kettle. Then pour it into a saucepan on a medium heat on the hob and add your cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and ten of your cloves – these were just the spices that I chose to use, but you could try all sorts of spices and flavourings such as bay leaves, cardamom, vanilla pods, fruit peel and honey. Stick the rest of the cloves into one half of your orange, then cut it in half (I learnt the hard way that it’s much easier to stick the cloves in to the orange before you cut it) and add the cloved half to the pan, skin side up. Stir for a minute then add the sugar, stirring for another minute or so. Then let this mixture simmer (so that it’s bubbling gently) for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Red wineIt’s now time to add your chosen red wine and you can just pour it all in to the mixture in one go – I’m not normally a red wine drinker and am particularly averse to Merlot, so I chose a fruity Chilean Cabernet Sauvigon. Keep the mixture on the hob and gently heat it, stirring occasionally. A couple of the recipes I looked at said to be careful that it doesn’t boil as this could apparently impair the flavour – but I have to admit I let mine boil and it certainly didn’t seem to do any harm. Once you’ve heated the mixture your mulled wine is ready to serve. The best way to do this (both to avoid spillage and also to stop bits of spice ending up in your drink) is to place a sieve over a pouring jug and pour the desired amount of wine in through it. You can then pour the contents of your jug into glasses.

Homemade mulled wineI would suggest serving in thick glasses or ones with handles, as otherwise it can be a bit hot to handle. From your remaining orange half, cut slices and attach them over the side of each glass – for decoration, but it also adds a nice boost of orangey flavour to the wine when placed in the bottom of the glass. Mr Mill Road and I didn’t want to drink all our mulled wine in one go, so went back to the saucepan and reheated when it was time for second and third glasses. I had expected the cooling and reheating to do funny things to the flavour, but it didn’t and each glass of mulled wine was just as enjoyable as the last. I should say that as it is a hot drink, it can be easy to forget how much alcohol you are drinking, so try not to overdo it – a couple of glasses is probably just enough to warm the cockles on a cold winters evening. You can enjoy your mulled wine on its own, or as I did accompanied by some chocolate truffles – I had made some dark chocolate & dragon ginger ones earlier in the day and they were the perfect addition.