1. Health food paradise at the new Holland & Barrett More store in York. I was recently invited to the opening of Holland & Barrett’s palatial new store in the centre of York. I’ve long been a fan of the brand for their organic dried fruit, nuts and muesli mixes, and for their supply of esoteric health ingredients from around the world (they were probably stocking quinoa and tahini way before Ottolenghi emerged on the scene). The new store is a bright, vibrant space filled with all sorts of healthy treats, from nut butters to smoked tofu to their huge range of ‘free-from’ products. However, the expansion means there’s also space for a selection of beauty and makeup counters brimming with natural products to make you lovely on the outside as well as the inside. I had great fun creating my own body scrub at the Beauty Kitchen stall, using a delicious-smelling array of natural ingredients (my personal combination involved bitter orange, Epsom salts, and a zingy lemongrass oil), and enjoying a 60-second manicure with the same nourishing combination, leaving my hands gloriously soft and fragrant. You can now visit Holland & Barrett More for a manicure with vegan nail polish, or a makeover using natural makeup, or to sample some of the wonderful beauty brands they have in store. Ultimately, though, I care more about what goes in my mouth than about my appearance, and the store definitely doesn’t disappoint on this front. I came home with probably the best goodie bag I’ve ever received, brimming with exciting healthy treats to try out in the kitchen: cacao powder, cocoa nibs, raw organic cashews and almonds, coconut and peanut butter, apple and cinnamon tea, dried blueberries, and a jar of snowy coconut oil. If you’re into healthy eating, cooking, beauty or unusual ingredients, I’d highly recommend the new store in York. The staff are super-friendly and knowledgeable (they’re all trained to a high standard about the products in store), and it really is a treasure trove of healthy treats.
2. Wine tasting at Veeno, York. I’ve been a fan of Veeno’s relaxed, convivial approach to Italian food and wine ever since they opened in York just over a year ago. This week I was invited to one of their wine tasting sessions, which are available for all guests to enjoy for a very reasonable price. You can do it as a ‘DIY’ tasting, to enjoy at your own table in your own time, which is a great idea, and you can even give gift cards for their tastings. A group of us were treated to six wonderful Sicilian wines (produced in the family winery), and a fantastic platter of accompanying snacks. A big fan of white wine, I enjoyed the light Tasari Catarrato to begin with, which went perfectly with slabs of salty, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil. My favourite, though, was the Giumara Inzolia, which is an incredibly crisp, fruity wine that goes beautifully with olives and tapenade, its intensity coupling nicely with the salty kick of olives. We tried three intense, smoky reds, of which the pruney Giumara Nero D’Avola was my favourite. They cut through the fattiness of Milano salami, Parma ham and crumbly, nutty Parmigiano cheese perfectly. To finish, we were treated to little glasses of beautiful golden, intense Marsala, and a tiramisu that completely changed this mad notion I had that ‘I don’t like tiramisu’. It was spongy, rich, only slightly sweet, and wasn’t drowning in tasteless whipped cream; quite the opposite. The tang of the marsala perfectly offset the rich dessert, but you could drink it almost as a dessert in itself. I had a wonderful time sampling the excellent wines on offer, and enjoyed even more the real quality of the Italian produce we ate alongside. I’d highly recommend the experience if you’re even remotely into wine and Italian food, or are looking for something a little different to do with your friends/family/partner. Thank you so much to Veeno for the invitation.
3. Making kaiserschmarrn. No, this recipe isn’t much of a looker, but that’s because a) it’s basically a big pancake that you then cut up with a spatula and throw onto a plate and b) its name literally means ‘Kaiser’s Mess’, and c) I burnt it a bit. BUT making this for brunch last weekend may be one of the culinary highlights of my year. I first tasted this slightly unusual dish in Austria last April, where it’s a national delicacy. Told by my two American colleagues that it was vile and that I should fill up on soup because there’s no way I’d want it for lunch, I took one tentative bite of this sweet, fluffy concoction and cursed them bitterly. Why would anyone fill up on soup when I could eat this glorious mass of pillowy pancake, caramelised around the edges, studded with sweet raisins, dusted with icing sugar and served with fruit compote? It’s safe to say that I’m a fan. When I came across Lizzie Kamenetzky’s recipe for kaiserschmarrn in a copy of delicious magazine, I almost wept with joy. It’s even easier to make than I’d anticipated – it’s simply a batter of egg yolks and whipped egg whites, with flour and milk, scattered with alcohol-soaked raisins (I used fresh orange juice though, as this was for breakfast) cooked on the hob and in the oven until set, then shredded and baked again to crisp up. I served mine with some plums baked in orange and ginger, and it was just ridiculously good. Despite looking quite indulgent, it’s actually feather-light, fluffy and vanilla-scented and generally just the only thing I ever want to eat in the morning.
4. Speaking of plums and mornings…this fruit is very good at the moment. I don’t know which exotic country they’ve come from, but the plums in the supermarkets and grocers right now are huge, dusky pink and glowing. Just cut them in half, put them in a baking dish, and sprinkle with a generous dusting of ground ginger and some stem ginger in syrup, finely diced. Trickle over a little of the ginger syrup, add a splash of water or the juice of half an orange, cover with foil and bake in the oven at 160C for around 30 minutes, until completely tender. The plums and their juice are wonderful on hot porridge in the morning, or served as a dessert with ice cream. Or, of course, alongside kaiserschmarrn (or your chosen pancake recipe).
5. Testing Easter recipes. These gorgeous lemon, cherry and almond ‘hot cross scones’ will be on the Great British Chefs site soon. They’re soft and crumbly, studded with sweet chunks of glace cherry and enlivened with a spritz of lemon zest and some toasted almonds. The ‘cross’ is a simple lemon water icing, which gives a lovely zing to the buttery scone. If you don’t want to spend time waiting for hot cross buns to rise, these are for you. They bring together all the flavours I associate with spring and summer, and are great for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea.