Yes, having fun making raw cakes. We had recently had a wonderfully successful event with The Wandering Yak who specialise in vegan/vegetarian street food. I made a selection raw vegan cakes and tarts. I've since made them several times to put in the cake fridge at the Cat. It's amazing and quite satisfying how popular they are. though sadly only as long as they're not labelled vegan or raw! Odd because you'd think in this day and age, people would be much more open to trying different food. And so many people are now embracing the raw food culture. Not sure I could get away with it at the Cat. . . but I am tempted!
Anyway, here are a couple of the popular ones and sorry not pictures. I never think of taking pictures while make cakes. Usually because I'm not thinking about putting them out anywhere. So you can just imagine how they look!
Raw Chocolate and Berry Tart
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 cup chopped dates
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tblsps cacao
4 tbsps coconut oil
Blend almonds, dates, vanilla and cacao together. Slowly add coconut oil. Press into the base of a 23cm springform tin. Put in the fridge to set.
4 ripe avocados
1/4 cup maple syrup
100g coconut sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
280g coconut oil (melted - I just put the jar on top of the oven while it's on)
1 cup water
Puree the avocados. Add all other ingredients and process until smooth. Pour over the chilled base. Put back in the fridge to set.
You can decorate it with chopped strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or a mixture of all three.
As The Cat approaches its 10th anniversary, I look back and wonder ...if I'd known what it was going to involve would I have opened the Cat? That's a hard one. For a start, I never meant to be here 10 years on. It was a 3 year plan but despite a large number of people who wanted to and/or tried to buy it over the years, for various reasons it just never happened.
This country's cafe culture is only just beginning to develop and is clearly a good 20 years or more behind that of New Zealand and Australia. When I returned to live in Cambridge in 2000, after spending 10 years in New Zealand, I was shocked to find there were no decent cafes around and nowhere could I buy a decent coffee. When I asked for a Flat White, I was greeted with a blank look and eventually given an over-extracted, cheap robusta, over-roasted blend with burnt semi-skimmed milk foamed to within an inch of its life with a lovely (not!) skin forming on the surface. I was heart broken. I love a good coffee.
It began to dawn on me that most people don't know they are drinking a bad coffee because they've never had a good one. I can't believe it when I hear people raving about a certain brand of coffee which I think is bitter and over roasted to the point of being caramelised (not a good thing in roasting coffee). But weirdly when I say no, it's not great coffee, it's foul, bitter and over roasted I get a relief response of 'but everyone says it's good and I thought it was just me who didn't like it'. Hmmm wonder how often that happens. A case of the Emperor's new clothes I suspect.
I suppose I opened the Cat because a) I blended and roasted my own coffee so knew I'd get a decent drinkable one that was 100% Arabica beans and b) I saw cafes would eventually take off here. True I didn't expect it to take so long especially as the Cat was busy and popular right from the start. And true it has faltered at times but here we are and still the busiest cafe on Mill Road.
There have been some tough times over those yearsl. These are probably the hardest things I've had to deal with although there have been others;:
- a manager who worked for 3 years from the first day I opened who I eventually realised was dipping her fingers in the Till. This realisation dawned the day I visited her (we had, I thought, become good friends) and when she made a drink asked me to get some cups from the cupboard beside me. I opened the door to see it packed with Black Cat crockery. After she left, my bread, bacon and egg order went down noticeably. My Till also began to balance. I then learnt she told customers we were business partners and it was she ran the Cafe. I guess it was Karma coming around when she left to open her own cafe and survived for barely 8 months. More to running a cafe than she realised! Or most people I suspect.
- the girl who stole the petty cash over a period of several months (slack of me because I only realised when I did the quarterly VAT) and who, when I made it clear I knew someone was doing this while naming no names, left and then took me to an employment tribunal for non payment of holiday pay.
- the Council deciding I had to apply for a change of use from A1 to A3 despite their inspecting me over the 7 years I'd been open and agreeing to let me operate as I was because I wasn't an A3. Not sure why they changed their mind but as I was told that I wouldn't get an A3, I applied for and was approved as a mixed A1/A3 class. In the meantime, I was approached by several people who said the Council had told them I'd never get an A3 and that (in one case) if I paid them a certain amount they'd take the lease off my hands! Two of those people now own their own cafe and another two were local traders. You know who you are so hey thanks for the support guys. It felt like the vultures were circling.
- Rumours: one persistent and difficult to deal with was the rumour that our service was really slow. Many people complained and circulated this for a couple of years via Facebook and Twitter. When we are busy we always give a 30 minute wait time so people have the option to stay or not. It didn't seem to matter what we did, this slow/slack service rumour kept circulating. Then one Sunday we had a couple who started complaining they'd been waiting 30 minutes for their toast. This was odd because it was only 9:50 and at the time we opened on a Sunday at 9:30 (it's 9:00 now) and I'd already made and served 2 other breakfasts for customers who came in before them. So we started putting down the time on the order. Oh what an eye opener. 'I've been waiting 45mins!' one young man claimed. It was 7. He'd waited 7 mins after being told it might be a 30 minute wait. People often only waited 10 minutes before claiming it was over 30. We timed ourselves. The longest anyone had to wait was 22 minutes and that was when we were packed. Funny when I put this out on Facebook, the whole thing stopped. People may remark occasionally but to us.
- The rumour that my staff were all on drugs spread by a friend, another local business owner. They weren't, at least not at work except one girl who was asked to leave because of it. It was hurtful because I thought rumour monger was a friend. I eventually heard other unnecessary, mostly untruthful but unpleasant things she'd said because, as is the nature of people, I was quickly told about it. Not easy to deal with but I worked out that jealousy and competitiveness are uncomfortable friends.
- Reviews: Fake reviews on TripAdviser and on our Facebook pages. This is always a difficult one as I tend not to look at TripAdviser but the Facebook one I can't avoid. I find it astonishing when I know other businesses get their bad reviews removed. How is that honest? You can review me but only if you say nice things. On the other hand, I know people put up fake reviews. We have had people come in and demand a free meal with the threat they'll give us a bad review if we don't. We don't of course. It makes a mockery of the whole review thing. Mostly I just avoid looking.
- Reviewers and bloggers. Well what can I say? It's very easy to criticise when you're on the other side of the counter. Try running business yourself before you start criticising the way someone else does it. It may be a bit of an eye opener. And then you might understand how distressing and hurtful it is when someone says/writes negative things. This maybe a business but it is mine and I feel it personally especially as no matter what, I always try to do my very best. And what is it about people these days that they are so narcissistic and think if we do something they don't like, it's personal! No it's not. Most of the time we don't know you and most of the time, unless you tell us, we don't know what's wrong. We didn't intentionally do anything to annoy you. Why would we? And here's a thought, if you're unhappy with something then why not mention it at the time rather than running away and writing a review, often exaggerated and not always entirely truthful. It's childish and cowardly. If you don't tell us something is wrong at the time, then we don't know to fix it. But also, don't complain, let us fix it and then still go and write a negative review.
There have been other things, other experiences, other unpleasant and untrue rumours but that's enough of that. It is easy to focus on the negative and think the good things are somehow a fluke rather than the reality.
But here are some of the good things...
'the matriarch of the cafe culture in Cambridge'.
- One customer who has been coming off and on for the last 10 years, tells me that he goes to check out other places but he comes back because we still do the best coffee and cake in Cambridge and he loves our 'innovative' brunches (get that 'innovative'). To be fair, he's not the only one. We have customers who have been coming faithfully and regularly since we opened. One also told me I should be proud of what I've achieved because I am
- My staff think that's hilarious and keep trying to put it out on Twitter and Facebook but I wasn't sure how to take it (I think I got hooked on matriarch bit making me sound old!). Anyway, I've decided to embrace it. So thank you.
- The Cat was in the vanguard of the cafe culture in Cambridge. No one else made a Flatwhite or roasted their own coffee, handmade cakes or offered a specific brunch menu until we came along. I remember customers asking us what French Toast was! Now it's on most brunch menus.
- We have in our time been voted Best Cafe in Cambridge.
- We were runner up in the regional (and now defunct) Local Food Hero award hosted by Gary Rhodes. He told me my Spiced Plum Syrup cake was 'absolutely divine' . . . praise indeed..
- Been interviewed and reviewed on TV and radio. BBC! Bet most of you didn't know that or you've forgotten.
- I have been repeatedly asked for my recipe for Rhubarb and Rosemary cake by a famous chef - I have made it for him several times. He orders it for his dinner parties.
- Jamie Oliver told us we make the best scrambled eggs and repeated it to another cafe in Cambridge who repeated it back to us (oh how small Cambridge is!).
- Other cafes have taken on the handmade cake baton and, although I would never have the arrogance to describe myself as the doyenne of cakes, I am amused nevertheless, to see others doing it. But whatever, I was one of the first to make it a USP for a cafe in Cambridge. And it is gratifying to see other's following in my footsteps.
- Despite the rise in the number of cafes in Cambridge over the last couple of years, The Cat is still busy, still popular. We do our own thing and we have no desire to be a part of any clique. We follow no one nor do we imitate anyone else. We do love it, however, when we see others imitating us although we know they would never admit it, we still know what we do and we soon notice. We often get told about how certain other cafe menus look a lot like ours. It reminds us that we still count.
So I guess, all in all, the good things outweigh the bad but would I do it again? Was it worth it? Who knows as I don't have a never owned Black Cat person to compare myself to. But I've done it. And after nearly 10 years we are still here, more than holding our own and still, I believe, a force to be reckoned with.
And here is a great big thank you to all our customers, followers, friends and fans. And here's to another 10 years. . . possibly :)
We have cocktails... more later
I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. I guess when you're busy that's one of the first things that gets set aside. And the last year has been a very busy one for us. So busy that we haven't really had time to get an event organised until last Friday, 4 March. Our Psychic/Mediumship event was, as usual, booked to capacity. And we would like to say a huge thank you to the Medium (and my personal friend) Fiona Heale for a brilliant evening. In 31/2 hours she gave a message to 26 people, many who waited patiently until the end of what must have felt like a long evening.
I know many people feel rather conflicted about the notion that there are some who connect to those who have passed over and we at the Cat do not wave any particular flag. We simple offer something that many people are interested in and ask for.
And for those of you who asked, yes we do intend to hold another such evening in the near future.
See you there we hope.
I've been going to quite a number of supper clubs lately. One thing that always strikes me is that they are often quite expensive (not always I hasten to add) and the food is ... often...well ...ok. I know that it is easy for me to be a bit critical. I've worked in the food industry for many years and am lucky enough to number amongst my friends a particular well-known chef who will always give me an honest critique and helpful advice on some dishes I've prepared.
I recently attended a Tapas supper club where every dish was individually priced so you could have what you wanted and pay only for that. And this got me thinking. One shortcoming, I feel, of many supper clubs is the set price and no-choice menu. This is ok if all the courses are great and I like each one but I have been to a couple where there has been at least one course and sometimes two that I just could not eat.
So here we go. I'm organising a South American style tapas/streetfood event. South American because it has such a rich cross/cultural food heritage. From the native South Americans who cultivated corn, lima beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chile peppers, avocados, chocolate to the immigrant Europeans who learned to make their favourite Spanish, Italian or Portuguese dishes using these ingredients. Unfortunately, I can only select a few dishes but I've tried to incorporate a number from across the continent. All will be small tapa sized so you may have as many or as few as you like. Each will be individually priced from£2-5. There will be a selection of dishes from across South American, all small tapa sized so you can have as many or as few as you like. Each will be individually priced from £2-5. You will find more information here Supper Events It would be great to see you there.
Going out on a limb here. I don't rate Mary Berry very highly. I've watched a few episodes of the Bake Off thing and while I Iove Paul Hollywood, now there's a man who knows his bread, Mary Berry seems to me... well average. I'm sorry but I don't understand why everyone thinks she's such a fabulous baker. Baking margarine and putting all ingredients in the mixer all at once with added baking powder! Really? It's like calling someone who uses a bread machine a master baker. That's not to say I never use the all-in-one method; some cakes call for it but to do it for every cake it seems like a bit of a cop out to me. And I'm pretty sure that most people who do bake cakes as well as those who really like to eat homemade cakes can tell the difference between an all-in-the-mixer-together cake and a one that's made by creaming butter and sugar together, adding the eggs and beating until thoroughly combined before folding in the dry ingredients. I can. The first one tends to have a denser crumb and can sometimes be a bit doughy.
I know I probably sound like a purist here but to me, putting everything in a mixer is only one step removed from using a packet cake mix and I'm sure you all know how I feel about that. Equally, I'm the first to admit that there is a place for both - all in one and packet mixes that is - but really, Mary Berry a cake baker who judges others' efforts! Am I missing something?
After a successful night at the Cat on 26 October (see here for a review
by Local Secrets on the evening's event) the Urban Street Kings held another delightful and tasty event at the Cat last night. As before the food was innovative, delicious and artistically served. I like this stretching the boundaries with food, it takes a certain courage and conviction to carry it through. It's always tempting to take the easy route and play safe - I do it myself. I like experimenting with different flavours and combinations of flavours but I don't really do anything to make it stand out. I guess it's about keeping expectations low so the diner with be wonderfully surprised when they actually taste the food but if they aren't, then they're not going to be disappointed because their expections weren't raised.
Well, I know what I mean.
The Urban Street Kings next pop up will be 21st and 22nd November. You can follow them on twitter if you want to find out more @food_urbansk .
In the meantime, I look forward to organising the next Psychic Supper as the last one was such a resounding success. It will be on 23 November at the Cat. As numbers have to be restricted, this is a ticket only event. Click here for more information and the booking form.
I can't believe it's been so long since I've written anything here but then I've got caught up in organising events and supervising the Cat's later opening hours on Friday and Saturday evenings. In the last month or so, we've hosted a couple of events at The Cat and Urban Street Kings held a Pop up serving some amazing fabulous food.
One of most popular events proved to be the Psychic Supper followed by the Murder Mystery Evening. I've held mediumship evenings at the Cat before but this was the first time it was held as an event with a 3 course meal. Guests brought their wine. Medium Clairvoyant Leo Bonomo sat at a side table to give private one-to-one readings to each guest while the others tucked into the feast, chattered amongst themselves and made friends.
Our next Psychic Supper with Medium Lindsay Duncan will be on 23 November - you can book for this on our supperclub page. As it was All Hallows or Samhain, the food served reflected the time of year
with autumnal seasonal food. The first course was
Cream of Watercress soup - serves 650g butter 1 onion, finely choppedPinch of salt1tbsp flour
250ml vegetable stock400ml whole milk500g watercress, washed and roughly chopped75ml double cream
- Prepare a large bowl of iced water. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the watercress. Leave until it has wilted which should take no more than a couple of minutes. Drain off the hot liquid and sit the pan into the bowl of cold water and leave to go cold. This stops it overcooking.
- Heat the butter in a large pan over a medium-low heat and add the onion. Season and cook gently until soft, but not coloured. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Gradually stir in the milk and 250ml vegetable stock. Bring to just below the boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Squeeze the cooled watercress out and add to the pan. Using a stick blender, puree the mixture, then add the cream and season to taste.
Served with crusty homemade organic bread.
Next Course: Slow Roasted Spiced Leg of Lamb - serves 6
1 large leg of lamb (approx 2kg)
1 head of garlic, sliced in half horizontally
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup red wine
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- Using a sharp knife, make a few small incisions in the fattiest parts of the lamb. Mix all the marinade ingredients and rub over the lamb, making sure you push it into the incisions. Leave to marinate in the fridge for 12–18 hours or overnight.
- Remove the lamb from the fridge 1 hour before cooking, and preheat the oven to 220C.
- Place the sliced head of garlic and onion in the base of a large roasting tin.
- Make sure there is no chopped garlic on the surface of the lamb otherwise it will burn while the lamb is cooking.
- Rub a little olive oil and salt onto the meat, then place the lamb on top of the vegetables and put in the oven, uncovered. Cook for 5 minutes then turn down the oven temperature down to 150°C (300°F)
- After 40 minutes, pour 2 cups of hot water over the meat and return to the oven for 3–4 hours, basting the whole joint with the cooking liquid every half hour or so.
- When the lamb starts falling off the bone, remove from the oven and leave in a warmish place to rest for 15 minutes while you make the sauce.
Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and skim off the excess fat.
Boil rapidly over a high heat until the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency, adding a little more sugar, cumin and seasoning.
Serve with Vegetables roasted with wholegrain mustard and lemon (recipe later!)
I watched Saturday Kitchen yesterday, for the first time in ages. I'm afraid I find cooking shows boring these days; everyone has an opinion and everyone is suddenly an expert. I enjoyed watching Rick Stein but more for the French scenery than the cooking, not that there was much - a few ripe figs covered with creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla isn't exactly cooking - but I appreciated the simplicity and I'm sure they tasted wonderful.
The following programme was another cooking show with Lorraine Pascal. I have heard her name but I've never (to be brutally honest) been that interested in watching her but I do think it's important to keep up with the trends and she seems to be flavour of the month (no pun intended!) Now am I missing something here? She looked lovely and is clearly a very nice person but Scotch eggs? I watched her with increasing bewilderment as she constructed Scotch eggs. My grandmother made Scotch eggs, my mother made Scotch eggs, I made Scotch eggs. Not complicated and pretty bog standard fare but there she was enthusing over the way she made them as if it was something she'd invented (though the fact that she admitted stopping off at service stations to buy those plastic ones that no one with any functioning taste buds could possibly confess to liking did set little alarm bells off in my head). She followed this culinary creation with individual Beef Wellingtons - with shop bought pastry (as least I make my own) as if this too was something really new and exciting.Huh? Then she made something that she referred to as her Tipsy Trifle but was a really just version/variation of something I've always called Fraisier - a strawberry and cream cake.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting her down at all. I applaud her clear enjoyment and enthusiasm but it was all very old hat and yet I got the impression that she, and many other people, think this is all ... well I'm not sure what really... new? It's like this whole baking thing everyone seems to be into these days. So many people talk about baking as if it's something new and wonderful and suddenly everyone's an expert and everyone is competing. It's baking. It's not rocket science. Anyone can bake a cake if they set their mind to it. There are plenty of recipes and books around to tell you how to do it.
Of course there are those who can bake really good cakes and often the difference is subtle but it is because they care about the process and really enjoy it. That's when baking goes just that one step beyond reading and following a recipe to engaging other senses like sight, sound and smell. (Like making a good coffee. Knowing about and being precise about extraction times, milk temperature, fine tuning the grind etc doesn't mean you can produce a good one because all machines are different, they extract at different times, milk temperature is only part of the foaming process and there are so many other things that can affect it. Making a good espresso is about sight and sound. Whenever you hear the milk screaming when it's being steamed, it's screaming for a reason usually because it's being burnt to death...). So it really comes down to this - if you enjoy doing something and you get a lot of pleasure from it, then you'll be good at at it because you're prepared to persevere until you are.
Recently I was actually (and I'm still trying to work out if I was awake or dreaming) stopped in Mill Rd by a young woman who asked me if I used the all-in-one or creaming method. Two things flew into my mind: who the hell are you and what the hell are you talking about? Before I had time to respond, or run away, she proceeded to give me a lecture (or harangue me) on what I should do to improve my cakes. I finally said thanks because I'm polite and was brought up properly and walked away quickly before I lost the will to live and threw myself under a car. It reminded me of those times in my little wool shop when young women (who had clearly learnt to knit from watching YouTube because they used US terminology) would come in and instruct me on various ways to cast on or 'bind' off or whatever. I've been knitting since I was 4 and I baked my first cake when I was 6 - I don't pretend to be an expert on either but I do think I've got a pretty good handle on how to do both. And I'm not interested in competing with anyone. If you like my cakes, that's great since I bake them for people to eat and I hope you do like them but if you don't that's your choice - everyone's tastes are different but I wouldn't be so arrogant as to assume my cakes are better than anyone else's and I certainly wouldn't instruct someone in how to make them unless I was specifically asked to explain how I do it.
So what is this all about then? This 'discovery' of baking, sewing, knitting and so on. I look back and recall that among my contemporaries, there were probably only a few of us who did these things and a few of us whose mothers did them also. True, most of my friends' mothers did know who to bake, cook, sew, knit etc because they were taught to do so at school in 'domestic science' but I grew up in the 70s, the era of mass production, of emerging supermarkets, of cheaper food etc. And the second wave feminism. Woman wouldn't cook or sew or knit because it was seen as women's work; unskilled, unpaid and, therefore, of no value. You could buy these things in shops so now women were freed to do other things - mainly go out to work for less pay than men for doing the same job but that's another story.
So I realise that teaching/learning these skills has missed a couple of generations. The young women who came into my wool shop had learnt to knit watching YouTube because their mothers couldn't teach them because they themselves hadn't been taught. People learn to cook these days by watching TV or YouTube or reading magazines. I understand now how lucky I am that I have these skills but I am also aware that on some level I undervalue them because they're just things my mother taught me to keep me occupied when I was a child and they come easily to me. So I applaud Lorraine and the rest of you for taking up these skills and imbuing them with new life and giving them a status but please, please don't turn it all into a competition because that is turning back the clock to when women were judged by other women on the whiteness of their sheets or how well they scrubbed their front steps or the lightness of their pastry. I have tasted cakes recently that I thought were ordinary, quite tasty but nothing particularly special (made with margarine which I hate but that's a personal preference) yet all around people were raving about them. But that's just me and I don't think my cakes are that wonderful - like everyone else I have my off days. However, I would never assume that just because I don't like something, that it must then be substandard. Who am I to judge or criticise anyone else's offerings? Everyone's tastes are personal - just enjoy it or not. It's your choice but let's enjoy the handmade-ness (yes I know it's not a real word) of things that gives them an individuality that is just not possible with mass production.
Off my soap box now...
To celebrate our first new open late evening on Friday September 20, we are offering a 10% off anything, food or drink, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.
Download and print off this voucher
to bring with you. Or download it to your smart phone and , when you come to pay, just wave it under our noses!