Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A few weeks ago D and I went on a jaunt to Amsterdam. I think its safe to say our 4 days in the city reflected its vibe really well. We stayed at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, a design hotel that overlooks the waterfront. Within the hotel itself (which is a bit like a maze or like something from a film) there is a chance to explore various art installations dotted around the hotel. But I think given the short duration of our stay I will split the rest of this travel blog into sections.

Getting around: Amsterdam is famous for its cycling, however we actually ended up walking an awful lot so take comfy shoes! There is also a decent and relatively inexpensive tram network which makes the city pretty easy to get around. The train link to the airport is very reliable so getting to your hotel takes only a little bit of forward planning.

Culture: we visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. I really would recommend buying tickets for these in advance, particularly the Anne Frank House as they only let limited numbers of people in at once. The Van Gogh museum tells the story of his rather unusual and sad life and his artistic development through a collection of wonderful paintings. Something about being there and actually looking at the texture of the paintings as well as the actual paintings is probably pretty educational for artists of all experience levels. The Anne Frank museum was sad and uplifting all at once. Something about seeing the impact of the holocaust through the experience of 8 people rather than by reading statistics and other historical sources makes it easier to understand on a more personal level. The Anne Frank house has been restored to how it was when they were hiding there and while there are stark reminders of a family who were living in extreme difficulty, it tries to bring home a message of understanding others to try and prevent something on this scale happening again. Anne Frank was a rather wonderful writer and the museum definitely tries to encourage the view of her as a witty, clever but very real girl with her own faults rather that making her seem perfect.

We also had a trip to the Zoo (it was nice to be out in the sun after being inside a lot) and it provided a bit of light relief after being overwhelmed with culture and history. We also stopped by the Sex Museum (it was very cheap) which was as you’d expect. If you’re from Yorkshire and I say it was like the Yorvik Centre but with an 18 Certification you’d understand what I mean but it is extremely tongue in cheek.

Boat trips: you must go on a boat trip. This is a city with canals and you can see so much at a slower pace. There are also dinner cruise options if you’re feeling fancy.

Food and drink: The Netherlands are famous for bakeries and waffles (why do you think I went) and Amsterdam did not disappoint! Lovely cake, lovely stroopwafel. I cannot enthuse too much about it. It is also really inexpensive to eat out in restaurants and there are some amazing options for snacking and street food. Buy patates, you won’t regret it.

In terms of drinking and bars there is really something for most tastes and the atmosphere is really relaxed. Early evening drinking for the win!

Shopping: Amsterdam is amazing for shopping! Take full advantage (unless your debit card was frauded the week before like mine). Also not to be missed – trips to cheese shops, bakieries and the Bloomenmarket.

Where do you recommend we visit next?

Adding some pizzazz to your Halloween drinks

Adding some pizzazz to your Halloween drinks

With Halloween coming up on Monday (and with the weekend fast approaching) I have a couple of easy and festive drink recipes you can try at home. They can be scaled up or scaled down really easily so would be perfect for smaller gatherings or larger groups (just make sure these are kept out of reach of little ones!) These won’t require lots of complicated spirits and a lot of ingredients you might already have in. I think mulled cider is a wonderful drink around Halloween and Bonfire night, while the vodka and grenadine looks pretty spooky. Perfect for all you vampire lovers.

To make mulled cider you will need

2 cans cloudy apple cider

2 shots spiced rum

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon demerara sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Heat the ingredients on a low heat until the sugar has fully dissolved and the spices have started to release aroma. Strain with a sieve and serve (Initially I forgot this and let me say, it is not pleasant! I call it witches brew at this stage).

Scale up or down depending on how thirsty for cider you are.

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To make bloody vodka you will need

The vodka of your choice (we had vanilla)

Grenadine Syrup

Ice

The mixer of your choice – we had coke

The fun of this recipe is obviously that it looks a little bit like blood. However, unless you’re really trying to “get on it” you might want to add a mixer, otherwise you could end up falling asleep in a corner or something. Anyway all you need to do is mix 1 part grenadine syrup and 1 part vodka and serve over ice for the red effect. Then dilute a bit with something to make it more palatable.

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While these are no means the most complicated cocktail recipes and you will probably not win any mixology awards with these, they were pretty fun to make and drink. The simplicity of these makes these great for any budding party host!

Love Food Boxes

Love Food Boxes

I was recently offered the opportunity to review a Love Food subscription box. The idea is simple in that you get sent ingredients to bake some seriously delicious (and instagrammable) treats in the exact quantities needed to prepare each recipe. You will, of course need to provide your own chilled ingredients such as eggs and butter. However, I find it a beautiful idea for people looking to start baking or for those who enjoy cakes fresh from the oven, but who want to make it a treat to have and really enjoy once in a while rather than a staple in their diets.

My box contained ingredients for S’mores Brookies. A brownie/cookie hybrid sandwiched together with melted chocolate and marshmallows. A most excellent way to end a busy Monday (and something nice to take into work on a long Tuesday). I found the recipe really easy for my tired brain to follow and I thought it was nice that it was something new and a bit different that I had not tried before.

I have actually has this box for a few weeks as I have been waiting for the perfect opportunity and you know what? I love them – as well as being simple for bakers of experience levels, the food looks so decadent and tastes amazing (I might be on something of a chocolate high right now). I can imagine the boxes being something you could make with your friends on a cosy night in, or give to an older child with minimal supervision. They’re probably also the sort of activity that some would find enjoyable as part of some sort of home based date night.

So here are the practical bits of information: when you subscribe the money will be take out of your account on the 1st of each month and the box will be delivered on 21st. The subscription can be cancelled at any time and the codeย FIRSTBOX ย can be used to get 50% off your first box.

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I was sent a Love Food subscription box to review the service but all opinions are my own.

The Great British Bake Off Gifts

The Great British Bake Off Gifts

I have had a good run from Mr Postman lately. One of these was an insight into the Great British Bake Off gift range currently available to buy at Debenhams. While the format for this show will almost certainly be different next year (something that we will all have to wait and see about) this is a range that is perfect for avid bakers of all ages. With fun touches such as a cute cake shaped kitchen timer and cake tins to personalise these are the sort of fun gifts that are perfect stocking fillers at Christmas (although I’m not too sure a cake tin will fit into many stockings). Who knows, it might also be a hint to your baking gift recipient to make some sort of cake or pie for your enjoyment? (A win win situation in my opinion).

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I was sent this lovely grey apron from the Debenhams range. I think it will be used in my kitchen to show who is boss! Although there’s no contest really as the last time Dane baked was about 12 months ago!

To shop the full range click here.

I was kindly sent this as a PR sample.

Giant scone cake

Giant scone cake

I’m ready to admit it. Blogging can be a funny business. While some people do really well cooking up elaborate meals and writing about them, I always find the most success in terms of number of visitors based on recipes that are straightforward to make at home with ingredients with easy to substitute ingredients; rather than the much more elaborate cooking I originally did when writing this blog.

On that note, I can spend hours making and decorating a cake and, yes, quite a lot of people will show interest. Then on another occasion I can make a giant scone cake due to burning something else, which takes all of 45 minutes to make, bake and decorate and it gets the most interest of any cake recipe I have made. You really cannot predict blog views!

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This cake recipe as mentioned before is really quick to make. Nobody expects a pretty scone so it doesn’t need hours of elaborate decoration. This recipe is also eggless, pretty low on sugar and can be easily adapted into a vegan recipe if you switch the milk and butter for non dairy substitutes and use this gem instead of whipped cream. Pretty much a winner for several dietary requirements then.

To make a large scone cake you will need:

450g self raising flour

100g salted butter

85g caster sugar

Approx 300ml milk

50g sultanas

2-3 tablespoons raspberry jam

200ml double cream

1 tablespoon icing sugar

Heat your oven to 200ยฐC. Line 2 cake tins with grease proof paper. In a large mixing bowl use your fingers to rub the butter into your flour. Add your sugar and sultanas. Pour in about 2/3 of your milk and then gradually add the rest of your milk until just before the point when the mixture goes too sticky and soggy. If this happens add a little flour to stiffen up.

Diving your scone mix between the two cake tine and spread the mix to the edges as scones do not really spread during baking. Bake for about 11 minutes until the scones go golden brown. Allow the scones to cool.

To decorate whip the icing sugar and cream until thick and spreadable. Spread jam on one half of the scone and spread cream on the other half. Sandwich together et voila. A giant scone!

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This is a great crowd pleaser, especially amongst my Yorkshire friends. My grandma served this cake with champagne (this cake was a moving present for her and my grandpa) but it also goes really well with tea of coffee – as scones are traditionally served with tea.

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Sunday Dinner at The Refectory

Sunday Dinner at The Refectory

A wise person once told me that Sundays are for relaxing and eating lovely food. While I am very much inclined to agree, that is what we SHOULD make time for its safe to say life can often get in the way of this at times. For me its having a busy job, running this blog on the side of that, looking after 2 bunnies, being in a play, doing up the house etc. etc. Life can be busy and its easy to forget that mealtimes should be leisurely and help you unwind from the week. So, in addition to inviting me for lunch I’d like to thank the staff at the Refectory in the Royal York Hotel for reminding me how chilled out a Sunday lunchtime can be.

The Royal York Hotel (I think) has recently changed hands and has such elegant interiors combining traditional elements of the architecture with a modern feel throughout. (I’m no design student but my friend Mrs E and I both liked what we saw). The refectory itself was pretty trendy and modern – sort of a conservatory with a Scandinavian vibe. Pretty perfect for weekends in York as it is close to the city centre but with a genuine feel of modern Yorkshire that I think a lot of people will enjoy.

We were made to feel so welcome by the restaurant staff and they all seemed pretty knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food they were serving. The food is locally sourced which I am very much in favour of, especially given the amazing quality of the local produce in this region.

Also I was pretty impressed that Mrs E tried the piccalilli made on the premises (she is not usually one for condiments!) so this must have been pretty special. To start with Mrs E had the pressed ham hock – with the aforementioned piccalilli and mustard monkey bread. The ham hock and piccalilli went perfectly together and was beautifully presented. I had calamari, a rare treat for me as D is not a fan of squid. The squid was cooked to perfection and was incredibly tender.

For the main course I had roast of the day which was beef and Yorkshire pudding. I was impressed that I was asked how I would like my beef as I know preferences vary on this. I had mine rare and it was beautifully cooked (also I particularly enjoyed a roast dinner I had not had to cook myself). Mrs E enjoyed her confit duck leg (the chef’s special) which seemed to fall off the bone.

We decided to push the coat out and have a dessert each (something pretty rare for either of us these days). I had a Yorkshire cheese board – 3 kinds of cheese which I believe makes it a gentleman’s cheeseboard. I love cheese boards for having my own personal one was pretty cool. Mrs E had strawberry sorbet which looked fresh and inviting and I think a great palate cleanser after the duck.

We sat and relaxed in the light airy restaurant and finished our wine (we had Sauvignon Blanc) and then walked around York to digest our lunch.

All in all a pretty great Sunday lunchtime don’t you think?

We both really enjoyed our food and we were genuinely touched by the attention of the staff. Thank you for inviting us! The Refectory is a great venue with some wonderful food – I think this was reflected in that we could see family groups of different sizes, friends on days out like us and a few couples. I would really recommend this place to anyone visiting York and will definitely be coming back.

For more information about The Refectory including booking details click here. Click here for information on the Royal York hotel including booking details, how to get there and hotel facilities.

I was invited to review the Sunday Lunch at the Royal York Hotel but all opinions and enthusiasm is my own.