She started her food blog, Top with Cinammon, aged 15 and went on to become a social media maven, with thousands of followers and a wildly successful cookbook. NUS spoke to incoming fresher, Izy Hossack, about starting uni, cooking on a budget and Bake Off
Hi Izy! We want to know, how did you start cooking?
My whole family cooks. My Mum is Italian American so I sort of learned baking from her - she brought American style recipes over to England when she moved here with my Dad. My Dad is English, so I had English recipes from his side of the family as well. Growing up, my family would cook and eat together. They grow vegetables too, so we eat seasonally – my Dad has an allotment.
So how did the blog come about?
I started cooking really basic things when I was around ten. A few years later, I found out you could find recipes on the internet. That’s when I started reading food blogs. They all have such lovely pictures and everyone writes about their lives which is really interesting – especially when people live halfway around the world.
When I was making my own things, I wanted to document the recipes. That’s why I started my own food blog, and it just kept going.
Why do you think it all started to take off?
Pinterest really helped. As I started to improve my photography - basically by practicing every week - I noticed increased traffic from Pinterest. There were a few viral recipes which were massive on that site and I was just getting loads of hits from them.
Where do you get inspiration from when trying to come up with ideas?
Mainly food blogs – I read a few hundred different sites and see what people are making. So I might notice a technique being used, or a special ingredient, then take those things and use them in my own way. Or I sometimes get inspired by seasonal vegetables that we’ve got. My Dad grows loads of green beans for instance, so at the moment we’ve got a fridge full of them. It can be a case of creating a recipe out of necessity as much as anything else!
What tips would you have for someone wanting to start a food blog?
Start as soon as possible, you’ll always regret not starting earlier. Make things that you like – be authentic to your voice and style. Comment on other people’s blogs and connect with others. That’s a really nice thing about the blogging community – everyone helps and supports each other out. It’s a really nice environment to get involved with.
What’s the best thing about blogging?
I think the community aspect is amazing. I was in New York for a month this year and basically filled my days meeting people who I know through Instagram or the blog, or the general food community. It’s amazing, because you feel like you’re never alone, you can go to any country and just ask to meet up. The fact that they’ll know the best places to eat is a definite bonus!
You can spend time hanging out with people who you have loads in common with because you’re either bloggers, or really like food, or do photography, or whatever else, so it’s really good. I’ve met so many people online, which is especially great when travelling – it’s so nice to know you can go anywhere in the world and see friends.
What’s your favourite recipe from your book Top with Cinnamon?
Definitely the Swedish chocolate cake. It’s basically a one pot cake. You just melt all the ingredients in the pot to make a batter– which really reduces the washing up – then pour it into a pan and bake it for about twenty minutes. It’s kind of like having a fudge brownie mixed with a molten chocolate cake, but you don’t have to do anything fancy. It’s so good - really cheap as well because you only use cocoa powder, no chocolate. I’ll be making that a lot at university.
Will you be taking anything to university to cook with?
I’ve already started building up my spice collection. That’s an essential for me because cheap food often doesn’t have much taste, so spices are really good to add flavour. I’ve got cake pans, an immersion blender – to make soups, pesto or sauces and stuff like that. Mostly basic stuff, nothing too fancy.
Food wise I’ll bring lots of dried beans, because I’m mostly going to be cooking vegetarian food at university – it’s a lot cheaper, healthier and better for the environment. I’ll probably have some window herbs too!
Best tips for cooking on a budget?
It’s really good if you plan ahead. So, if you cook lots of stuff on Sunday, like veggie burgers, which you can put in the freezer, or roast some vegetables and then use them throughout the week. That’s a really good way to do it because you’re not going to waste food and you’ll always have something to eat during the week.
Do you feel strongly about sustainability?
Definitely. I think lots of people eat unsustainably nowadays. Everyone eats a lot of meat. As someone who doesn’t eat that much meat in general, I find it a bit odd when people can’t go a day without it. I’m going to try to do some meat-free, student friendly recipes on my blog to show people you don’t have to use low-grade, really cheap minced beef all the time. That’s the kind of thing lots of students buy and it’s so bad, but no one’s going to be buying the grass-fed, free range meat when they’re at uni!
In place of meat I use lots of beans – because they have plenty of protein – and grains like quinoa, which have protein as well. You can buy that in a bag of mixed grains, so that it’s not as expensive. Also just use lots of spices. I think the thing people miss about meat is the flavour – they think vegetarian food is really boring and flavourless. If you use herbs and spices well, you can make a cheap meal that’s really tasty.
Are you nervous about going to university?
I’m nervous about not having enough fridge space! No idea where I’m going to put all my food – I’ll probably have lots of storage boxes in my room full of dried beans and things.
Why did you choose to study nutrition at uni?
I’ve always found it really interesting, but I think everyone has a basic interest in nutrition. If you talk to people about it, most people will listen to you or want to have a discussion. It’s also quite widespread in food blogging that people will include nutritional information about what they’re cooking - why the ingredients are good for you. Knowing the science behind the facts mean you can give people good, solid advice.
Where is your favourite place to eat?
I actually love Franco Manca. They make the best pizza ever. It’s ridiculously cheap as well – something like £4.50 for a pizza – it’s so good!
What would your last meal be?
French toast with maple syrup and berries. I love brunch food so much and French toast is probably my favourite brunch dish.
Will you be watching Bake Off this year?
Yes, I’m watching it. I actually entered in the second year but never heard back from them…I ended up writing a book instead!
Read the Top with Cinnamon blog here
Buy Izy’s book Top With Cinnamon: Stylish Sweet and Savoury Recipes here