The art of charcuterie

Originally written for Quench Mag

In this day and age, the average cheese plate will no longer do. It’s all about the charcuterie boards.

The term charcuterie comes from France, directly translating to ‘delicatessen’ and involves a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products. Although the term specifically refers to the cooking of meat, the connotations of a charcuterie board have extended well beyond that. A charcuterie board of the 21st century would classically be bursting with cheeses, fruits and breads as well as the cooked meats, offering a diverse and complex meal. They are all the rage right now and we have to wonder why.

Over the past 5 years, you may have noticed a growing trend of artfully designed cheese boards on social media and I believe that it’s because of this that the art of a charcuterie board is the new way forward. Instagram accounts such as @cheeseboardandchill and @cheeseboardqueen have amassed thousands of followers whilst @thatcheeseplate has reached an incredible 260k. Tik tok has also become overrun with cheese board makers as they post quirky videos of the steps they take to create these beautiful boards.

“Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.”

The founder of @thatcheeseplate, Marissa Mullen has even gone on to releasing her own bestselling book called That cheese plate will change your life which delves into the art of cheese boarding. On their website they’ve even stated that ‘Cheese plates can be an important form of artistic self-care.’ The book also includes the method of ‘cheese by numbers’ which is a simplified formula designed to help an amateur foodie in creating a perfectly well balanced and bursting board.

The key steps are: Cheese, Meat, Produce, Crunch, Dip and Garnish and the idea is that you lay out your board following this order in a step-by-step, fool proof fashion. I decided the best way to test just how easy this method was to simply try it myself! I love cheese and charcuterie a lot and I’ve often enjoyed making up a board for my family, so I was excited to increase my skill level. But most importantly, who doesn’t want a great excuse to use cheeseboard making as a form of artistic self-care?

As I am a student and cheese can be very expensive, I knew this had to be a budget board. So I popped into Tesco in hopes of finding some cheap and tasty goodies and I wasn’t disappointed!

The photos above depict the steps I followed when making my charcuterie board. I started with cheese – Camembert, cheddar and manchego. Followed by meat – chorizo slices. Then produce – grapes. Crunch – The corner deli co’s smoked paprika corn and The artisan bread companies tomato and sweet paprika bruschetta. Dips – caramelised onion chutney. Garnish – sprigs of rosemary.

I was so pleased with the result, it looked almost as decorative as the ones I had seen online. I found that the numbers method worked so well as it offered a clear-cut way of arranging the board and fitting all the food items in. This method is easily applied to any ingredients you want, meaning you can adjust the price point and taste to your preference.

After making this board, I am aware of the things that I felt could be improved on. The colour scheme of my board was extremely orange, saved only by the rosemary, and I believe this is something that could be adjusted by adding to the produce. More colourful items such as cucumbers, figs and strawberries would have added a well needed pop to my board.

Of course we baked the camembert!

The effort involved was definitely worth it due to the impressive reactions of my friends and family, and the board itself was the perfect size for a lunch for two. It offered the variety that a regular cheese board does not, and the idea of produce means you can make it a lot healthier and justifiable.

So. Charcuterie boards… are they the way forward? Many people could have been put off by their complex and boujee look, but Instagram accounts like @thatcheeseplate and their @cheesebynumbers methods have opened this world up to basic foodies like you and me. I would feel confident to present the board I created at a dinner party and would happily bask in my guest’s compliments. They are designed well to offer a perfectly balanced meal/snack with each of the steps bringing something new to the table. I would definitely recommend trying to make one yourself by following this method, don’t be put off by it’s false bravado!

Review: Got Beef

Wales’s national lockdown was looming and we had no choice but to spend our last evening tasting the food of Cardiff’s Got Beef. After opening its doors in 2014, Got Beef was voted as No. 2 by National Newspaper Wales in its Top 15 burger joints in Wales list. After achieving this title in less than a year, it was clear to me that the restaurant owner, Cai Pritchard had been doing something right, and I had to find out what it was.

The restaurant located on Whitchurch Road is modestly sized and rocks a casual style with wooden benches and an open kitchen. I love the open kitchen approach as it means that the diners are able to observe the chefs in the kitchen and be apart of the camaraderie. I believe that it completely elevates the entire eating experience as a whole new dimension is added to the journey from kitchen to table.

The food itself was stunning. Priced at £8 my Soprano burger was to die for. It was Juicy, succulent, the bacon was perfectly crisp and it was properly filling. The highlight for me was the sauce; jalapeno mayo. The spicy tones complimented the burger perfectly and lined my mouth with a welcome zingy and tingly sensation. It combined with the chorizo and monterey jack cheese perfectly and brought the whole burger together as one. This is a recipe I will definitely be seeking for myself!

I found that the sweet potato fries trumped the skin on fries on every level. They came with the perfect crunchy coating and soft inside that the skin on fries did not deliver. However, I may be faced with a slight bias as I have recently discovered an everlasting and undeniable love for a sweet potato fry. On the other hand, the loaded fries, in my opinion, were not worth the price point. The cylindrical shaped bowl they were served in resulted in an uneven distribution of the ‘load’ and I felt this ruined the experience slightly. Whats the point in loaded fries if only half of them are loaded?

Whilst the food hit the spot, I found that the service was a little bit slow. However, the restaurant was packed and the constant stream of Deliveroo drivers excused this slightly. The lockdown measurements were also a defense of any service hiccups. This time is understandably a hard one for everyone and I can’t imagine the stress the staff were facing with the inevitable closure of their restaurant. The food came piping hot and at the same time, which, at the end of the day, was all that mattered.

The overall experience was positive and offered the perfect conclusion to our freedom. I would definitely return here as it wasn’t too expensive and the burgers satisfied our cravings. It wasn’t the best value for money but I’m eyeing up their £5 lunch deal as must try budget lunch treat!

A sobering October

Written for Quench magazine

“The university climate can be brutal and intense, but nothing I couldn’t rise above”

On the 1st of October my co-editor, Indigo, pitched the idea of ‘Sober for October’ and for one of us to take up the challenge. This immediately piqued my interest as, due to my status as a university student, my alcohol consumption may be deemed as slightly unhealthy by the average person. I needed to cut back and make a positive and healthy change, but my motivation had been lacking. Was this the inspiration I needed? Was this the perfect excuse to test myself? I am someone that lives for goals and I really struggle to achieve without something to work towards. This was the perfect opportunity. I took up the challenge willingly and, on the 1st October, my sober stint began.

Within the first week of October I found myself constantly reflecting on my decision. It was safe to say that I wasn’t having any major issues so far. The current social climate of Cardiff and the lockdown measures definitely helped me due to the forced removal of all club suggestions. I watched my housemate enjoying a couple beers but I found it to be light work. I am someone who thoroughly enjoys a casual drink, so, for me to have no inclination to participate in the beer drinking was my first win.

Although its easy to stay sober when everybody else is, its much more difficult when your housemates are planning a heavy one. It was pre-national lockdown and my housemates wanted to go for a BYOB Indian. In my past experience, BYOB often results in a ridiculous amount of cheap alcohol and a lot of very drunk people.  A trip to Tesco left everyone with crates of beer and wine and my sobriety led me to make the decision to try a bottle of Tesco’s finest nosecco. I love sparkling wine a lot but nosecco is something that I had never tried before so I was eager to see if it would help curb my FOMO.

The Nosecco helped to Quench my thirst

I had never previously managed to master the art of interacting with drunk people whilst being sober, but I strongly believe it’s a key skill to possess so I was interested to see how enjoyable the experience would be. Turns out, sipping on a few glasses of nosecco whilst eating completely satisfied my alcoholic cravings. The energy was high, and the conversation flowed, and, although everyone was slowly getting more and more drunk, it almost felt like I was too. By instinct, I finished my bottle of sparkling grape juice and I felt a similar satisfaction as I would have from polishing off a bottle of wine.

The nosecco didn’t taste exactly like prosecco, but by drinking it out of a champagne flute, my mind was able to transport me to an alcohol-soaked destination. The carbon dioxide infused grape juice made my taste buds tingle as their cravings for alcohol were satisfied by the placebo effect. It was very sweet, and it was best to try to not smell it, but it was the perfect replacement as everyone else was drinking.

“I will definitely try a nosecco night again and I would even recommend it to others who are attempting to cut down their alcohol consumption”

I will definitely try a nosecco night again and I would even recommend it to others who are attempting to cut down their alcohol consumption. I was able to feel like I was joining in whilst maintaining myself and it’s fair to say, socialising with drunk people whilst sober is not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be!

My family and friends were all massively supporting of my decision and encouraged me to stick to my goal. They promised not to peer pressure me and that helped me a lot. My sobriety even rubbed off on my friends and I managed to convince one of my housemates to go sober for the second half of the month.

The most important thing that I learnt from my month-long sobriety is that, if I put my mind to a goal, I can achieve anything I want. My final year is the time to put my head down, work hard and look after myself. The university climate can be brutal and intense, but nothing I couldn’t rise above.

Sober for October; the Nosecco experience

Everyone was off for an Indian and the BYOB policy meant we were in for a heavy night. A trip to Tesco left everyone with crates of beer and wine whilst I straggled behind with my single bottle of Tesco’s finest nosecco. I was particularly grateful for my antibiotics as this was the first night I could have been tempted to break my sober stint and have a night off.

Interacting with drunk people whilst being sober is a key skill to possess, and definitely not one I’d previously mastered, so I was curious to see how much I would enjoy it and whether it would be boring. Turns out, sipping on a few glasses of nosecco whilst eating completely satisfied me! The energy was high, and the conversation flowed, and, although everyone was slowly getting more and more drunk, it almost felt like I was too. By instinct, I finished my bottle (what a lot of grape juice) and I had felt a similar satisfaction as I would have from polishing off a bottle of wine.

The nosecco didn’t taste exactly like prosecco, but by drinking it out of the champagne flute, my mind was able to transport me to an alcohol-soaked destination. The carbon dioxide infused grape juice made my taste buds tingle as their cravings for alcohol were satisfied by the placebo effect. It was very sweet, and it was best to try and not smell it, but it was the perfect replacement as everyone else was drinking.

I will definitely try a nosecco night again this month as I continue my sobriety and I would even recommend it to others who are attempting the same thing. I was able to feel like I was joining in whilst maintaining myself and it’s fair to say, socialising with drunk people whilst sober is not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be!

The Mallorcan covid holiday experience – part 2

Port Andratx offered everything I could want and more. Stunning views were supplied everywhere you looked, and the endless restaurants did not stop providing gorgeous food and drink.

The location proved to be perfect. At the top of the hill, I was treated to 180 degrees of uninterrupted views of the sea and beautiful mountainous terrain. This was perfect for a Covid holiday as it meant you could enjoy the surroundings and Mallorcan lifestyle away from the crowds. Many more amazing benefits of the location came from the amazing spots to view the sunset just a short walk down the other side of the hill. We spent many cheap evenings lazing down the side of the hill in an orange hue with a bottle of wine and a disposable barbeque watching the sun disappear behind the sea. I also enjoyed exploring the hills during the day and we found many amazing viewpoints and spots that felt a million miles away from civilisation.

Amongst all the incredible restaurants, my favourite was one that we visited on my third day in Mallorca. It’s called Verico. Located at the bottom of the hill with beautiful views of the Port, they offered a dining experience that was first class. Attentive waiters, delicious food and drinks to die for, the Italian restaurant had offered the perfect start to our holiday. I would recommend it to anyone who visited the Port, and, although it’s a big treat, it’s definitely worth it!

The coastal road from Port Andratx to Soller is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Mallorca and it didn’t disappoint. The bendy roads wrapped their way around the side of the mountain, traversing through beautifully scenic villages such as Valldemossa and Banyalbufar. The scenery almost overwhelmed me at parts as my viewpoint was contrasted between the extremities of a severe drop into the ocean and the dominating mountain on the other side. When we reached Soller we took the tram down to the port, which was beautiful. Quite different to that of Andratx, the port was wide, with beaches and lots of swimmers. It was distinctly less busy which offered a welcome change from the bustling life of Port Andratx.

Everyone in Mallorca was wearing masks and there was talk of a fine if you were caught not wearing one. It was hot, sweaty, extremely uncomfortable but very necessary in order to keep yourselves and others healthy. The news of the two-week quarantine came out on the 25th July and it hit hard. I wasn’t due to come home until the 5th August, so I was faced with the fact that I was going to be stuck inside for two weeks when I got home. This was the reality of a covid holiday. But, overall, although it wasn’t quite as glamorous as normal, it was an amazing experience, and we were still able to do everything we wanted. I wouldn’t have changed any of it!

Sober for October; the story so far

10 days in and it’s fair to say that my sober October has already come with its ups and downs. The support I’ve received from my friends and family is undeniably the thing that has kept me going and my motivation up. None of my friends have attempted to peer pressure me into drinking (not that I would budge) and my mum is singing my praises at home!

The combination of the local lockdown, closed nightclubs and an increased workload has also worked in my favour. My motivation has been so happy to see the back of binge drinking, getting home in the early hours of the morning and writing off whole days at a time! I’ve been able to get up early and straight to work on most days. The third-year workload, Quench magazine, my blog and new food Instagram account has demanded all my head space, so, the no drinking couldn’t have come at a better time. My life has been absolutely filled with reading and writing!

Another interesting turn of events which has added to my sober October is a round of antibiotics! For the first time in my life I have been forced into a 9-day dry spell due to medication and it couldn’t have coincided with a better month. It has only added to the motivation and reasons to stay sober, so I’m extremely grateful for my ailments!  

Bring on the next 20 days!

Tips on how to use your Autumn produce

Adapted from my article for Quench magazine

As we welcome the Autumn months and say goodbye to the hot sun, home growers and farmlands find themselves inundated with all those wintery fruits and vegetables that we all know and love. My family absolutely love growing their own produce and each year our garden is swamped with apples, pears, blackberries and butternut squash. We have become well versed in how to get creative in the kitchen and make the best of these foods without getting bored too quickly! Here are some of my faves.

APPLE FRITTERS

I love an apple pudding, and, when it comes to apple season, we have apple crumbles and apple cakes coming out of ears! I love an apple fritter because its quite different to a classic apple pudding and can create a refreshing change. The soft yet crunchy apple encased with a crispy, sweet batter and dosed in golden syrup is a deliciously unhealthy method to switch up your apple pud rotation! Here’s how you make it:

Firstly, put enough vegetable oil in a saucepan to reach about a third of the way up and put it onto a high heat. In a large bowl, mix; 180g flour, 35g sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and 2 ½ tsp of baking powder. Then add 2 eggs and 180 ml of milk and whisk until combined. Peel about 4-5 large cooking apples, cut them into good size chunks and stir into the batter so that all the pieces of apple are well coated. You will know when the oil is hot enough when you drop a tiny bit of batter in it and it floats up and cook within 30 seconds. When it has reached this temperature, use a slotted spoon to drop the pieces if apple in and leave them to cook for about a minute. Remember to turn them as they cook so they brown evenly. Pat them dry with kitchen roll, put in a bowl, cover with syrup, and enjoy! You won’t regret it!

ROASTED SQUASH AND FETA SALAD

My favourite salad ever is this butternut squash salad and it’s absolutely perfect for Autumn as it’s so warming and makes perfect use of mum’s endless squash produce. It’s the perfect healthy accompaniment to a lasagne, fish meal, or even pasta! Its hearty, warming and here’s how you make it:

Set your oven to 200 degrees Celsius and cut up your butternut squash into 2cm cubes. Once cut, place on a baking try and toss them in olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for a subtle heat. Put it into the oven and leave for about half an hour until soft, but remember to keep checking it so it doesn’t go to mush! Whilst this is in the oven, pour about half a packet of pine nuts into a small frying pan and dry fry for a few minutes until they begin to brown and soften. Set these aside. Take a packet of rocket salad and lay out on a large serving dish. Add the squash and pine nuts and then crumble over half a packet of feta. Mix together 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil along with a good grind of salt and pepper to make a basic vinaigrette, drizzle over the salad, toss and enjoy!

POACHED PEARS WITH A CHOCOLATE SAUCE

I love a pear and, when perfectly ripe, can easily be one of my favourite fruits. The pears that grow on our tree at home are delicious, but its easy to get bored of a plain pear. My brother has been known to make a killer poached pear that acts as a perfect ending to a good meal. It’s sophisticated and a good way to get in one of your 5 a day! Here’s how he makes it:

Put; 1 litre of water, 300g of caster sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla pod and the juice of 1 lemon in a saucepan. Then carefully peel 8 pears and place them into the saucepan. Bring the pan to a boil and then let simmer until the pairs are nice and soft. Meanwhile, melt 100g of dark chocolate in a bain marie until completely smooth. Then add 50g of butter, 250 ml of cream and 2 tbsp of caster sugar and stir until well combined. When both pears and chocolate sauce is done, serve together with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

The Mallorcan Covid holiday experience – Part 1

After endless months of being trapped inside and tied to my hometown, I was eager to get back to travelling the world. Like many others, my plans to travel far had been shot down. I had set my sights on South East Asia and Sri Lanka, but this trip would have to be postponed. However, despite the restrictions on travel, I was lucky enough to be able to visit my boyfriend at his home in the Mallorcan port of Port Andratx. I was able to say hello to sun and sea along with a firm goodbye to the British rain and fields!

As I entered the airport through their temperature measuring facility, I was worried that I would be turned away. I didn’t possess any symptoms, but I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by this dystopian procedure. However, I sailed through and made my way up towards security. The airport was nearly empty due to the number of flights having been immensely cut down and I got through security in a record time. Off – duty was closed along with any pub or restaurant which gave off an eerie vibe as it felt like I was wondering the corridors of an abandoned, shut up building. As this was early July, mask wearing had not yet been made mandatory in British shops, so this was the first time I had to wear one for a long period of time and it was definitely taking some getting used to.

The plane itself was a lot fuller than I expected. Everyone was clearly eager to get back to their holiday making and the Spanish regions were offering the best deal. There had been no lockdown restrictions put in place (yet) so the British public were clearly ready to get their warm weather fix.

As I stepped off the plane in Mallorca that evening I was hit by a wall of heat. It was so refreshing to finally be able to feel proper sun once more. I had landed at around 8pm local time which was perfect to watch the sunset as we drove from Palma airport to Port Andratx. We went straight out for a quick dinner as soon as we got there, and I had my first taste of the Mallorcan Covid experience. Masks were required to be worn as you walked around the town, which, coming from Britain, was an alien experience for me. All restaurant staff had to wear masks and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. It was an average of 30 degrees Celsius in the daytime and they were constantly moving around on their feet so it must have been a real struggle for them.

Port Andratx itself blew me away. Located on the coastal stretch of a sprawling mountainous region, the port sits in between two large, green hills speckled with villas and apartments. Restaurants line the promenade, allowing a gorgeous view of the scintillating ocean as you tuck into your lunch. I was so excited for the weeks to follow! Sun, sea and the perfect company. What more could you want?

Sober for October; The first hurdle

“The university climate can be brutal and intense, but nothing I can’t rise above.”

My alcohol consumption may be deemed as marginally unhealthy by the average person (I go to University), and I’ve decided to make a change. On the 1st of October my co-editor, Indigo, from Quench magazine pitched her article idea of ‘Sober for October’ and her plans to write about her experience of a sober month. I thought it was a brilliant idea. That night as I was lying in bed my mind was consumed by this pitch.  Was this the inspiration I needed? Was this the perfect excuse to test myself? I am someone that lives for goals and I truly struggle to achieve without something to work towards. I sat upright in bed as it dawned on me. I needed to be a part of this. I text Indigo straight away to let her know that she had inspired me to follow suit. She immediately responded with the idea to co-write the article. I agreed. Suddenly, I was committed and had the ultimate goal to work towards.

It’s been three days and it’s safe to say that I have had no issues so far. The current social climate of Cardiff and the lockdown measures is definitely helping me due to the forced removal of all club suggestions. I watched my housemate enjoying a couple beers as we watched a film together last night, but, surprisingly, I found it to be light work. I am someone who thoroughly enjoys a casual drink as I genuinely love the taste of alcohol and the gentle buzz generated from that first drink. So, for me to have no inclination to participate in the beer drinking was my first win.

My boyfriend and my mum are my biggest supporters so far. They are both keen for me to cut back my drinking and put my physical and mental health first. This has added an enjoyable amount of pressure as I know that if I fail, I am not just letting myself down, but the people who care about me and I really don’t want that to happen!

I have never felt so inclined to achieve a goal, nor so at one with my decisions. Although many people would not believe a month sober is a big deal, it will be a big deal to me to know that I can do it. The university climate can be brutal and intense, but nothing I can’t rise above.

Stay tuned to find out how I get on!

Review: Mowgli

“In 2014, founder Nisha Katona had a nagging obsession to build an eatery serving the kind of food Indians eat at home and on their streets.”

Walking into the Cardiff branch of Mowgli, we were met with a dazzling spectacle of fairy lights and warm colour. The staff were so incredibly welcoming and helpful that we couldn’t help but feel instantly at home in this treasure cave. On their website they describe themselves as “not about the intimate, hushed dining experience [but] about the smash and grab zing of healthy, light, virtuosic herbs and spices.” This became apparent when sitting amongst the warm light as it felt like we were all together, enjoying a family meal.

The smells coming from the kitchen flirted with our senses as our eyes flickered upon their menu, swaying our temptation and making our mouths water. The menu is so interestingly varied it was so hard to pinpoint what we wanted. After much deliberation, and some help from the waiting staff, we opted to share; yoghurt chat bombs, the ruby wrap, gunpowder chicken, one of the office worker’s tiffin and some roti.

The yoghurt bombs were the first to arrive and set an extremely high standard for the evening. The Pani puri spheres held a perfect mixture of spiced yogurt, creating a beautifully cool sensation in the mouth. They were topped with pomegranate seeds, adding a refreshing sharp after taste which complimented the spicy tang well. The only regret we had was scoffing them straight away and not saving them for when the rest of the food arrived, as they would have acted as an ideal relief from the harsher spices of the curries.

The Yogurt bombs topped with pomegranate and coriander

The gunpowder chicken is described as a spiced chicken popper in a gluten free chickpea batter, and they were unlike any battered chicken I had ever tested. I can’t recall ever trying chickpea batter before, but after this experience, I would be reluctant to shy away from it if I ever see it on the menu. The chicken was succulent, the batter was crisp and the coriander and basil accompaniments were perfectly balanced, what more could you want?

The paneer in the ruby wrap was juicy and delicious and matched the “rainbow of Mowgli chutneys” well. I absolutely adore paneer in Asian cooking and this dish did not disappoint. However, if you are one of those unfortunate enough to not enjoy the taste of coriander, this dish is not for you as it was scattered in abundance!

 The curries we were given in our tiffin box were; Temple dahl, House chicken curry and Mowgli House Keema with a side of rice. The sauce from the chicken curry was my favourite and suited their description of “tame but tantalising”. I love a Keema and it is rarely seen on the menu, so I was really excited to try it. It was rich in flavour and almost reminiscent of Lebanese cooking due to the domination of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. I think of a keema as relatively dry curry due to the cohesion of the meat and sauce as one, so I was pleased we had ordered roti to go with it. The Temple Dahl was not my favourite as the lentils had a little more bite and the sauce was little wetter than I would have liked, however, the flavour was still delicious. I enjoyed the presence of the roti and they went down well, but they were a bit thin and my partner and I both agreed that we prefer a thicker flat bread.

The overall meal was stunning and a really enjoyable experience. The setting was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the staff were attentive and friendly. Although the curries were delicious, I favoured the street food dishes and when I return, I will be eager to sample as many more as I can! I would recommend this restaurant to anyone and I cant wait to show it to all my friends and family!