Friday, 29 May 2015

Cafes in Islington | Highbury

Islington is a funny little borough. I spend a lot of time wandering around it and I never can quite tell where it begins and where it ends. As an avid cafe fan, I am blessed to live in this nook of North London, where you'll find them liberally peppered about. 

You might have already enjoyed my 'Cafes in Islington | Holloway Road' edition, which tells short tales of some of the establishments I enjoy there. The thing is, that's just three cafes amongst dozens of others on one stretch. So you see, to service the whole of Islington, I've got plenty to write about.

Let's have a look in and around Highbury, starting with possibly my favourite cafe of all, not just because I have fond memories of the area but also for its resident cafe cat, Max, who likes to come challenge my territory. I have had to let it slide though; he is an actual cat after all.
Places to Eat in London: A great little Islington Cafe

Islington and London Cafe, with Mat & Jess

Fink's Cafe is run by the lovely Mat and Jess, who I had the pleasure of interviewing in their opening week and they have a year since brought the place to life, filling it to the rafters with happy customers.

With fare quite unlike anywhere else, they are the masters of small plates and boards: of fish, of cheese, of meats and of other delights. And everything is presented oh-so-beautifully.

It's like a larder full of loveliness. I often have the salmon board with a giant glass of their excellent Vinho Verde.  

Islington Cafes

Spanish Tapas and Jazz Cafe in Highbury, Islington
Highbury Arts Club

While the opening hours of this little gaff and the fact they don't take cards is a touch irksome, it possesses a number of charms that almost help you to forgive them entirely, such as their Spanish/Australian style brunches - think sunny eggs and greens. Open in the evenings for tapas, there's a number of plates to be shared alongside some plinkety plonkety jazz or cosy comedy. I use the adjective cosy because it is small and it gets steamy but, for me, that makes it unique in its place along the Highbury Barn.

A North London Islington Cafe - a great place to eat in Islington
Little Gem

You're likely not to find this place unless you look for it, which is probably what the locals might prefer. Tucked just off Highbury Corner on a residential street (Corsica Street to be exact), Little Gem is a little gem indeed.

Peaceful proprietors of a mean toasted sandwich and serving Monmouth coffee, Little Gem is also Japanese-inspired, with subtle touches from the plates to the curios that adorn the walls.

If you fancy a clandestine coffee date, no one is likely to find you here. 

A lovely French cafe in Islington, North London
Le Peche Mignon

Serving also Monmouth coffee, you'll find this cafe if you slip off Holloway Road en route to Highbury Fields (Ronalds Road).

With shelves filled with French delights and a counter brimming with fresh salads and pastas, it's a pretty busy and cosy spot for a bite to eat and some gentle shopping. This Islington cafe also has a petite garden that is a regular little sun trap, too.

 If you're in Highbury soon, why not check them out for yourself? Or if you're in Islington in general and on the hunt, just tweet me @thecafecat.

For more London sweet spots, be sure to follow me on Instagram.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Larder #2 | Celia's Saucer

Lately, my inclination to bake has stepped up quite a few notches. Perhaps it's all the birthdays, or maybe it's because I miss my grandma and this is something we used to do together. Either way, I've been rather busy. 

The one thing we don't tend to buy is bread but often this means we're left short on a weekend morning at brunch time. I'm a no-fuss kind of bread baker and love a no-knead recipe. The time saved means you can also get creative with fillings - think taleggio and thyme, or walnuts with cranberries, or this week's version: spelt and green olive.
Spelt Bread with Green Olives and a golden crust 
With no-knead bread, you get a really fantastic crust, so it's wonderful straight out of the oven. This does mean, however, that it gets tough when cold. NEVER FEAR. For dinner that evening, or the next day, you can tear it into big chunks, drizzle them in olive oil and grill them lightly to act as croutons or big mops for dip or soup. 

For lunch today, I did just this and had the pleasure of discovering that Palacio de Oriente squid pieces (octopus style) makes a fantastic, protein-filled option. Just a small tin (£1.99) is enough and you can throw in with it whatever you like. I found sundried tomatoes, basil, fresh lemon, balsamic vinegar and some garlic worked well. I had mused that tinned squid might very well taste awful but it was excellently satisfying.
The Cafe Cat Recipes

 Working hard with Lindt chocolate at the moment, I'm liaising with a lot of food bloggers on Lindt dark chocolate recipes. It's all very well asking them if they'd like a big box to play with, but I've always found that it helps to offer suggestions or show examples. Plus, who needs an excuse to bake delicious things?

Lately you might have seen my Dark Coconut Chocolate Creme Brulee but this weekend I got stuck into making a Dark Chocolate Earl Grey Torte, using the best earl grey tea from JING.  The flavours pair so well together but it's a good idea to have some cream handy to cut through... this bad boy is RICH.

Lindt Dark Chocolate and JING Earl Grey Recipes from the Cafe cat

For easier and quicker chocolate fixes, I turned my eye to the garden. With an abundance of hierba buena (spearmint) in the garden at the moment, I ought to be thinking of long, tall mojitos but I've sadly run out of rum and am usually not so extravagant as to buy some. Instead, I melted some of my stash and dipped the leaves in, making a refreshing treat to go alongside my afternoon tea.

Mint leaves covered in Lindt chocolate

And so that's just a few of the things I've been playing with. What have you been making lately? With all the lovely rhubarb, asparagus and more in season, I'd love your suggestions and inspiration. 

This asparagus empanada (Galician-style) didn't really work out for me, although I suspect it was because I chose to use sardines instead of tuna.

Stupid sardines.

 Until next time.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

How To Use Pinterest | For Bloggers

With a habit of saving bits and bobs, you'll find these scattered throughout my home. In old boxes, tucked into books, or fixed in ink in the dozens of notebooks found in my handbag or under the bed collecting dust. If you're new to the scene and want to learn how to use Pinterest, imagine that it's a place to curate and collect; it's your central library of everything you've ever been inspired by. 

I think, as a starting place, that's quite inspiring in itself. 

While not as serendipitous as those instances where you find an old scrap and exclaim 'oh YES, I've been meaning to do this', think of it as a super hub of eureka moments; a really well organised pin-board of everything you love. 

Click to come see me on Pinterest!

 First things first, let's talk about a common misconception. The misconception being that it is a social network. Don't be fooled into thinking it's another Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I've been shouting this at people in my office for nearly two years. Pinterest is a discovery engine. In fact, it's quite faceless. You can find your friends and family on there but, the joy is, you don't actually have to. It's about finding things that are relevant to you as an individual and other people whose inspiration complements or extends yours. So I'll say it again.

Pinterest is a discovery engine.

Go find the things you're interested in. Search for words or ideas and be guided by the tabs just below the top navigation to help filter your results. Repin what you find evocative and collate this into boards, follow people whose curation you're fascinated by, and have a scroll through the interests section where you can follow subjects collectively contributed to by pinners, rather than boards or entire profiles, such as important women in British history, or bees. 

For most of you reading this, as a blogger, you'll probably already have some knowledge of the platform but if you're a real beginner, this is a good, basic guide.

For those of you with a good, basic understanding, you're going to need a cup of tea for a few tips and tricks below.

Are you ready?

A guide to Pinterest in 2015 for bloggers, journalists and individuals

1. Write long, natural and authentic descriptions to capture your audience from a search perspective (think: what might people be searching for in relevance to your image) and be sure to add context or a personal touch. This is certainly important for your own pics but also those that you repin. They might not have been optimised to begin with but with that added flourish, people are more likely to find the image on your boards than anywhere else. 

2. Reshuffle your boards on a seasonal or trends basis. From an SEO point of view, Google crawls from the top down, so drag your most important boards to the top and give them searchable titles with core keywords, as well as adding those keywords naturally and contextually to the descriptions and also the name of the images themselves. If you need help deciding which keywords works best and when, don't forget to use the keyword planner. 

3. Add a call to action; or pin. While it's not foolproof, adding an encouraging statement to your descriptions can help impact the repin rate. A friendly 'don't forget to repin this to your super pretty kitty board' might work wonders. 

4. Tweets last a matter of hours, Facebook a few days, but Pinterest is evergreen so don't delete your content; someone might be searching for it, even if you've finally redecorated the bathroom and moved on to the kitchen.

5. Get a pin-it button - the larger or more obnoxious the better, increasing chances of content from your site being pinned. You can use those already available or use a good designer to help create your own. For help installing, forums are a great place to look for advice.

6. Use rich pins - these are available for recipes, products, places, movies or articles. They basically pull in all the extra information one might need. For example, the quantities and ingredients for a recipe or the cost, colour and size of an item. The coolest thing is that you can create city inspiration maps with rich pins for all those cafes you need to visit in Paris, or fashion-wish lists that will notify you when the products on your board go down in price or go out of stock. Find out more here.
A Cute Little Cafe in France's Capital City

Unknown Source - see tip number 8!
7. Register for a business account and use analytics. This is imperative for gaining insight into what content works best for you and for redefining and nurturing your strategy. You see which pins are the most popular and, if you validate your site, how many people are pinning images directly from your blog.
8. Don't use hashtags - I have it on authority that these don't really work and there's plenty of space to write descriptions that will be filtered and picked up in search, so get natural.

9. Always, always include a source! This is for obvious reasons. Send those people back to your site, or the site it came from. What a lovely user experience.

Tips and tricks from the Cafe Cat on using pinterest for bloggers
My lovely friend Vicki has created a board where she adds things she knows I'll love
10. Vertical pins word best, so when you're photographing your content, be sure to include a vertical snap that you can re-purpose for Pinterest. It is proven that people repin verticals more commonly and when you think about the surge of mobile use, it makes a lot of sense.

11. Invite others to pin on your boards. Strategically inviting other bloggers that you know love cats, for example, is a great way to engage and build richer, more contextual boards, as well as exposing yourself to the audiences of your partners.

12. Create a board for your blog Think of it as a window into your site. So considering things like headline overlays of the blog title is a good, clear way to capture the attention of a pinner.

Above all, BE GENEROUS. The more you comment, engage, pin and share, the more likely you are to see a return on your investment. IF YOU PIN IT, THEY WILL COME. Just make sure you follow my handy guide and beyond.

For new features, advice and interesting facts, be sure to sign up to the Pinterest newsletter and check out the business case studies for innovative ways to revamp your blogging strategy.

Any questions or suggestions? Just ask in the comments box below.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Dark Coconut Chocolate Crème Brûlée | Celia's Saucer

Lindt Dark Coconut Intense Chocolate Bar
I like to play around with recipes. Throw things in. Smack my chops and rub my chin for a few seconds to weigh in whether or not something will work.

I've done this a few too many times with crème brûlée and yet I'm still going. The first time was great: all smooth, light and custardy, but then I got ambitious and started adding coffee, or amaretto or smoked salt. While these all tasted good I still haven't nailed that dreamy consistency I first achieved and so I'm still feeling my way along, waiting for the day I get a perfect brûlée with extra flair that I can call my own recipe. This comes very close.
Lindt Luxury Dark Excellence Chocolate in a Coconut Creme Brulee Recipe Working with Lindt allows me the pleasure of playing with their chocolate on a school night, to distract myself from drinking wine in a heap on the sofa as I am so prone to doing now I've joined the rat race in London. Baking, or cooking in general, is an excellent escape for me.

To evade the end of the bank holiday blues, I decided to turn my hand once more to the brûlée, which I enjoyed in bed at midnight with little more than a spoon. It still wasn't perfect because I overdid the dessicated coconut that I lobbed in so liberally. However, I think using just the dark chocolate range from Lindt is perfect for adding subtle flavours, from the coconut intense I used, which mellows out like mallow, to the malty tones of roasted sesame or even the kick of the chilli - you can check out all the flavours for yourself here.
Creme Brulee in a Bain Marie with Pastel Blue Ramekins
There's lots of recipes out there for brûlée, but this one doesn't faff about and gets the job done, leaving you a nice bowl of egg whites for making meringue thereafter, too. Thanks to BBC Good Food for keeping it real and not getting frilly.

You will need:
  • 425ml double cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 80g golden caster sugar
  • 50g chocolate, broken into pieces (I used the Lindt Coconut Dark Chocolate
  • I also threw in a teaspoon of really good vanilla bean extract and a handful of dessicated coconut
The very easy process:

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees and then bring your cream to boil slowly - on a low heat or you'll scorch its sensitive soul. 

Let the cream cool for a mo while you snap your chocolate into similarly-sized pieces (and pop some in your mouth just to check it tastes ok - this bit is really important). Toss them into the bowl and stir until melted you can see no more swirly ribbons of chocolate. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together your egg yolks and half of the sugar before folding in your chocolate-cream mix and anything else you feel like throwing in for good measure.

Pour the mixture into four pretty ramekins. I picked mine up from the local charity shop for less than a bob. Charity shops are always brimming with ramekins. Place bargain ramekins in a deep roasting tin and then pour boiling water to fill about half way up the edge.

25 mins later, and you've got yourself some decadent little pots of joy. Allow to cool, refrigerate and before serving, sprinkle remaining sugar on top and blast with a blow torch or under a hot grill.

Creme Brulee with Dark Chocolate
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