French Onion Soup, with a Goat’s Cheese & Chive toast

If you happen to have a kilo of onions handy, a couple of stock cubes, a slug of brandy in your booze cabinet, and an hour to spare – then this could be your go-to soup recipe for spring. I added goat’s cheese and chive toast as a variation on a crouton, making things a little more zippy and fresh.

Be patient with the caramelisation process – it’s enough to make a monk tap his toes. If you succeed though, the results are just beautiful.

French Onion Soup

This makes 2 pints of soup to serve 4. You’ll need:

For the soup:

1kg of white onions, thinly sliced
2 stock cubes (beef is punchier, but veg is fine)
Tbsp plain flour
Tsp white sugar
30g butter
Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or a heaped tsp garlic paste)2 shots of brandy (optional)
Salt and pepper
A couple of dashes of malt vinegar

For the toast:
4 slices of your favourite bread
80g soft goat’s cheese
Chopped chives

-Heat the oil and butter together in a heavy-based saucepan. Once fizzling, add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions soften (don’t burn them!)
- Add the sugar and continue to gently cook with the lid on, for around 30 minutes. You are looking for the onions to turn a sticky, medium brown. The bottom of the pan will form a brown glaze. Scrape this up into the onions every few minutes
- Once the onions are gloopy and wonderful, add the garlic and turn the heat up. Quickly sprinkle in the flour as a thickener, add the brandy. Stir like you’ve never stirred before. Add the stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- In this last 20 minutes, heat the oven to gas mark 6/220c. Toast your bread and cut into whatever shape takes your mood.
- In a bowl, mash together your goat’s cheese and chives. Spread on the toast shapes and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Ladle the soup out and float the toast on top. Bien!

North&Stroll: Thruscross Reservoir

It’s springtime at last, and so I decided that as it’s Mother’s Day and I can be really demanding and diva-ish… that we go for a long-ish walk and get some exercise.

We love Fewston, which is not too far from our house. We have however tried on a number of occasions to get over to Thruscross, out past Pateley Bridge, only to be thwarted by lots of rain or random snow blizzards.

Walking Britain cites Thruscross as ‘easy’, but to a family carrying a winter of flubber and a toddler, I have to say it was pretty tough going! Tough but worth it – it’s such a varied walk with striking scenery – even on a cold and hazy day like today.

I’m no wizard with my camera, so photography pedants out there don’t shout at me, but below is a selection of images from today’s little adventure:



DSC_0204(I couldn’t see any pub…)








Nord, Harrogate

I think that owning a restaurant mustn’t feel too dissimilar to being a dedicated parent. You’d have round-the-clock servitude, tiredness, commitment and love, highs and lows – the sense too that your ‘baby’ is only young once and so you have to make the very most out of it.

Paul Rawlinson is not only the owner of Nord, he’s also going to become a Dad in the summer (Not throwing himself into things or anything). Set within his cafe Baltzersens that opened last year, Nord is an evening service that brings cool, Scandinavian dining to Harrogate town centre.

Nord Harrogate

Simple should not be confused with basic. At a pre-launch taster evening, Paul and his acclaimed chef Murray Wilson talked a group of us through a selection of dishes from Nord’s menu; a succinct selection of around 8 dishes from start to dessert. Murray is a Masterchef finalist and his plates reflect an artist’s mind. ‘The Salad’ was like grazing a fantasy Nordic forest. So many wonderful flavours and textures to pick through, and not a generic green leaf in sight.

I also tried some tender lamb on pearl barley, with leeks and wild garlic, followed by a dessert dish featuring a dizzying combo of gin-poached rhubarb, lavender pearls and creme anglaise ‘bombs’. This is a menu that clearly offers something more special than a perfunctory scoff before the theatre. It’s part of a grand performance, starting just one hour after the daytime cafe closes and the neon ‘Nord’ sign is hoisted into place. The minimalist wood and bare-bulb decor effortlessly cool yet inviting.

Nord opens to the public on 4.4.14. Keep up to date with them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

22 Oxford Street, Harrogate. HG1 1PU.


The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchReading a weighty book on a tiny Kindle should make me feel shortchanged. I find, however, that it is an incredibly liberating experience to be able to slip something as colossal as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, into my every day handbag.

This is a book of epic proportions, though the tale in itself is relatively ordinary (well, apart from a boy becoming the secret owner of a priceless painting). No less than 700 pages long, I could have easily wished for this to be double in size – this doesn’t really happen that often.

Donna Tartt is gifted in terms of her ability to describe without describing. As they say in fiction writing, you should ‘show, not tell’. The Goldfinch paints pictures of sadness, business, sleaziness, desperation and love in ways that left my mind the room to explore and create.

I won’t say much more because this is one book that should not be spoiled or rushed. Buy it, enjoy every page of it, because even if you’re like me and find super-long reads a bind, you’ll be very surprised by how very quickly this book slips by.

Cooking Cavolo Nero

cavolo nero and my swanky carrots

cavolo nero and my hipster carrots

My veg shop is a hipster’s dream (though sadly I’m no hipster). I sauntered around it the other day on a mission: To find locally-sourced veg to use in a dinner for visiting friends that evening. I was armed with two delicious plate pies from our local butcher (one steak and one chicken, incase you were curious).

I picked a bunch of super-sweet carrots, some ‘Wilja’ potatoes from neighbouring Nidderdale… then found myself staring at the most beautiful (and intimidating) box of cavolo nero. Myself and a discerning chap in a checked shirt and shiny shoes gazed at the box’s signage, both of us clearly not sure whether to pick it up and have a feel.

“It’s from Selby!” the shop assistant bloke cheerily shouted from behind the counter. “It’s like a cross between kale and cabbage”. Me and Shirtman glanced at one another before I gingerly picked a bunch and put it in my basket. “What will you do with it?”, he enquired through his specs. “Dunno… I’ll Google it”, and I shuffled off feeling strangely embarrassed at my lack of plan.

So, cavolo nero: You sinewy long crazy thing with stalks and buds that I had never dealt with before. What the hell do I do with you? Various recipes told me different things. I could boil it, broil it, bake it, shred it. I was left none the wiser, just furthermore confused.

I decided to use a deep frying pan with lid, and add the leaves (freed of their thick stalks) with an inch or so of boiling water and a pinch of salt. I turned up the heat and popped the lid on, creating an intense steamer effect. The pan ran dry quickly and so I topped it up. After five minutes, the leaves had wilted slightly but retained their shape. I drained, tossed in a small amount of butter and a pinch of ground nutmeg.

Padre Mia – it was very nice indeed! Next time I would probably cook for a little longer, just to ensure that the thick veins of the leaves are really tender. It was great to put some local veg on the table, which tasted more like it came from Siena than a field in Selby.

International Women’s Day – 8 March


It’s International Women’s Day! Today naturally makes me think about how very lucky I am to live in a society where being female isn’t a ‘bad’ thing.

I am somebody that will never experience a forced marriage. I will never experience mutilation or mistreatment as a form of ‘custom’. I’ll never feel that I ‘can’t’ go for that dream job. I will never feel the disappointment or embarrassment of others if I one day have a baby girl.

I never take for granted where or how I live; it really is so much more than many women have.

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is: Inspiring Change. Other groups also choose their own themes to debate and explore. Thousands of events will take place across the world celebrating the achievements of women across many walks of life.

Happy International Women’s day 2014, women readers. Do you have a favourite inspirational female?





The Yorkshire Meatball Company

This weekend, The Yorkshire Meatball Company flung open the doors to its flagship restaurant in Harrogate town centre. We popped along to the ‘Balls & Fizz’ launch evening, to learn a take a look around, learn about the owners and of course, to see what they can do with a humble meatball.

Owned by father and son, Gareth and David Atkinson, the restaurant concept is the first in the UK and they have plans to open a handful of further branches across Leeds. Gareth told us that is wasn’t the first business idea that he’s text to his father for consideration, but this is the one that became an instant keeper.


Because who doesn’t love a good meatball? More people than ever it would now seem, as the menu covers most bases. The gluten-free ‘Birdie Balls’ were a surprising favourite of mine – light but filling, with a fine crunchy coating and a good amount of herbs. There are also chickpea-based ‘Fake Balls’ for the veggie diners. There are smoky balls, Yorkshire balls, fish balls, spicy balls, balls for dessert and balls for any time of day (Sausage brunch balls, anyone?).

The menu is easy to follow. A three-step plan allows diners to choose their balls, choose a ‘bed’ to put the balls on, and a sauce to cover them.

The dining space features a long wooden table, so that diners can eat side-by-side and perhaps even make a new friend or two. Design quirks include cute cheese grater and colander light fixtures;  a wall-sized chalkboard and framed family photos on the walls.

The Yorkshire Meatball Company has been built with on foundations of simplicity and fun. It celebrates a nation’s favourite supper with charm and thoughtfulness, whilst making diners feel more ‘New York’ than ”TV Dinner’.

The Yorkshire Meatball Company, 7 Station Bridge, Harrogate. Website:
Twitter and Facebook

La Oliva, Harrogate

I love the Harrogate dining scene, because you’ll usually find yourself tucked in the nook above a shop, or hidden down a cobbled ginnel. It’s fairytale food stuff.

What’s also decidedly dreamy is the amount of eateries that take the Tastecard. Great news for savers who want to slip out for a midweek morsel.

La Oliva sprung up like a tiny Catalonian flower a couple of months ago. There was no bravado, no toreador, definitely no breeches or cape; just a chalkboard, some cool lighting and the promise of knock-out tapas.

tapas la oliva harrogate

Tapas. The love/hate quandary of the hungry person. There’s the fear of ordering too little and feeling sad, or too much and chucking your cash away. It feels so ‘British’ too to grill the waiter about your thoughts. I have to admit after several years of working around tapas myself, I’m still unsure how much to ask for.

We ordered dishes, stopping only really when we kind of ran out of menu to point at. We ate it all anyway. I do love a good challenge.

They serve tapas the correct way. It was lovely service – borderline horizontal and the two man team (a quiet night), just milled around sampling wines on the bar, nibbling jamon Iberico…. remind me again why I didn’t beg for a job?

After being served a traditional quenelle of potato, prawn and mayonnaise to try, we shared iberico bruschetta, mild but tasty patatas bravas, delicious garlic prawns, chorizo in cider and some ham croquettes. It was simple, tasty food that whilst being more expensive than their tapas chain counterparts, really felt worth it.

We shared a giant ice cream profiterole, topped with toasted almonds. This was just like eating a posh, round Feast lolly. Oh, and our bill was topped with some rocks of white chocolate peanut brittle. A lovely end to my little stay on the continent.

La Oliva was a great place to chill and nibble through some well-cooked dishes. It is elegant, modern, humble – a perfect mix, without a single straw donkey in sight.

La Oliva, 13-15 Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate HG1 1DD.
Tel:01423 531422  @LaOliva_rest

Christmas Squeak

Three days after Christmas is a strange old time for most people’s fridges. Chances are there are still umpteen foil-wrapped plates and tupperware full of god-knows-what. For me by three days, I’ve waved a cheery bye to the remnants of turkey (it’s not my favourite meat), and I’m faced with a plate of leftover mixed veggies.

Christmas Squeak

I’ve found a way to turn your soggy sprouts into blossom bombs of flavour, by blitzing your leftover veg and making this seasonal variation of bubble & squeak. I was inspired by my brother in-law, who made real b&s the other night, topped with a runny egg and lashings of brown sauce. I served mine with a rogue packet of chiplolatas that were hiding behind a box of cheeses.

It couldn’t be simpler to make Christmas Squeak:

Take your plate of leftover cooked veg – in my case it was a few roasties, parsnips, sprouts, a bit of mash. Blitz it in a blender. If you need to, use the tiniest splash of milk, but nothing more as the mixture can become very runny if you over blitz it. Heat a frying pan with a moderate glug of oil. Either tip the whole mixture into the hot oil and press down with a masher, or form smaller, flat patties and gently lower then into the oil. Gently press the mixture down frequently and carefully flip a few times to ensure a cripsy crust. The longer you cook, the crispier the squeak will become – mine took around 15 minutes.

(re)Kindling a love for books.


I’m terrible at reading these days, I just never seem to find the time. It’s hard to believe that I graduated in English Literature. The thought of all that hardcore reading, with little choice of subject matter makes me queasy.

I am now faced with too much choice and too little discipline. Getting to a book store and browsing is barely possible at this time of life. The joy of owning books too is dampened, when they are used as colouring books or objects to shred with little hands.

So as a Christmas present to myself, I’ve invested in a Kindle Paperwhite. They are designed to do very little else other than provide a great e-reader solution, so there’s small chance of me wandering off onto Facebook, or buying a dress.

Digital books are cheaper, too. I feel better for the environment and for a literary person, I’m a bit weird because I hate clutter. Heaving bookshelves make me gasp for air and the fact that this little machine holds up to 1100 books, well… that’s enough for someone like me.

I will admit though that I feel bittersweet about owning a Kindle. Books, at the end of the day, are something that you form a temporary, yet intense bond with. Like a new partner, you can’t put it down. You pore over it and get to know it. You sink into it. Can you do this with a black square of plastic?

Perhaps it will work the other way; the Kindle becoming the trusty companion who’s in it for the long run. I may get to know its quirky bits, enjoy its consistency in my life. Perhaps it won’t be a bad thing that people can’t judge a Kindle by its cover. I can put on my deepest intellectual face, whilst enjoying something completely rubbish.

I’m excited to embark on this somewhat arranged marriage between Kindle and I. I might give it a name and just hope to God we get on alright.