Category Archives: out and about

Creatures & Flowers Cupcake Class with Holly Bell

For those of you who watched the second series of Great British Bake Off will be familiar with finalist Holly Bell. I was a fan of hers from the first episode because she’s local to me, has a similar obsession with Bakewells and (according to insistent family & friends) we are very similar look wise and mannerisms. Yes, I’ve also been known to get the tape measure out while baking, don’t judge me. I’m a perfectionist.

Holly has recently started cupcake and bread making courses at the lovely Bridge 67 Cookery School in Smeeton Westerby near Market Harborough. She invited me along to try the course. The cookery school is based in cute little house on the farm with the kitchen downstairs and the dining room upstairs. It almost felt like we were in someone’s house. I liked that the ovens were (rather nice) domestic ovens proving if you could cook it there we would be able to cook it at home.

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Cream Tea Diaries – Gliffaes

This entry is more of a tribute. The lady who inspired the Cream Tea Diaries blogposts, my Grandma-in-law, passed away suddenly in July at the grand age of 90. I promised to keep our Afternoon/Cream Tea visits in her memory. While on holiday in Wales we were recommended a great place called Gliffaes for Afternoon Tea and it didn’t disappoint. Read the rest of this entry

A Dapper Welsh Adventure

After last year’s cider fuelled glamping fest in Herefordshire as soon as we saw the fabulous Dapper Camping Club, north of Brecon, through Canopy & Stars we knew we had to visit. As a child I visited the area often on PGL holidays and wanted to return to show Hubs how beautiful Wales can be. This time we were in a bell tent, with a proper bed loaded with blankets and both a kitchen and bathroom all to ourselves. Anyone who has camped before knows this is a serious luxury! Everything on the site had been so well thought out from the decanter of complementary sherry, very much-needed on cold Welsh nights, to the well-stocked larder of provisions, freshly made pesto and daily generous breakfast hamper. Oh and a porcelain leopard; naturally.  Dapper Camping Club is run by Jasper & Lucy who made lovely hosts and have deliberately styled the tents in a quirky, quintessentially British feel but using both vintage & modern furnishings. Read the rest of this entry

Slow Food BBQ at Freedom Brewery

Some of you may have heard about Slow Food. It’s not about making casseroles but celebrating good, clean and fair food. Almost the opposite of fast food. On the 4th July me, Hubs, Clare from Seasoned Courses and a few other members finally hosted our first event at the great surroundings of Freedom Brewery near Abbots Bromley that had a fantastic views over Staffordshire. Edward and Susan Mayman, owners of Freedom Brewery, gave a tour of the brewery along with tasters explaining how their beers made and what makes then unique. After the tour we all tucked into a BBQ. It’s fair to say that we were very fortunate with the beautiful weather. Read the rest of this entry

Grand Day Out

After last week’s trip to School of Artisan Food now was the turn for another late Christmas gift. I’ve always wanted to experience dining on a train; we’re talking proper food, not the finest dried-out cheese sandwich and bitter coffee from East Midlands Trains’ buffet cart. Orient Express is just a tad bit out of our league at the moment so West Coast Railways who run scenic railway trips throughout the UK seemed like a perfect alternative.

On a damp, dreary Derby Station platform we waited with about 50 other people to catch the Hogwarts’ Express, sorry Diesel hauled Pullman Carriages, to travel 1st class along the famous Settle-Carlisle line. It was quite obvious early on that we were a tad bit different to the rest of the clientele in that the majority of them we’re old enough to be our parents/grandparents and/or were avid trainspotters. Given that Hubs is an Engineer he has a bit of geeky trainspotteresque blood in him, but we were there for the food, experience and the views.

The Settle-Carlisle line is often noted as one of the most scenic train journeys in the UK as it passes through remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales and Pennines while travelling along viaducts and eventually arriving in Carlisle. Some of the route Hubs & I knew well as during September ’09 we walked the Yorkshire 3-Peaks where some of the path between Pen-y-ghent & Whernside travels alongside the railway track. Seeing it again made me pine for the hills. During the outward journey we were served a substantial breakfast of melon, pastries and Full English along with sandwiches and scones as we approached Carlisle. On the return journey we had a four-course meal with cream of tomato soup, roast beef dinner, Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding and cheeseboard. Hats off to the waiting staff. I wouldn’t like to serve hot soup from a tureen on a moving train.

While we were significantly younger that everyone else it was a lovely day just getting away from modern life. No phones, no music just the two of us on our own little table, spectacular views, copious cups of tea and a few Saturday papers to keep us company. If travelling was always like this I’m sure I’d enjoy it more.

Artisan Chocolate at the School of Artisan Food

Lime Moulded Chocolates

Last weekend as a break from the house I travelled up to the Welbeck Estate near Worksop. This trip has been long-awaited. Ever since I heard about the School of Artisan Food way back in 2009, I’ve wanted to visit. Hubs gave me a voucher towards a course there and after spending a great deal of time deliberating as which course to do I settled on Introduction to Artisan Chocolate. It was certainly worth the wait.

When I arrived I was greeted by Joe Pilliero, SOAF’s Marketing Officer, then taken up to the canteen to meet the 14 other students on the course. Waiting for us was possibly the biggest pot of tea I’ve seen and a pile of freshly made pastries. It was interesting to see the age range on the course. I would guess I was one of the youngest with the oldest being mid to late 60s and around half of us were female. Everyone also had different culinary experience. One thing that bound us all was a love of chocolate.

Filling the moulds with lime and milk chocolate ganache

Ross Sneddon led the workshop and was assisted by one of the students who is on the year-long Diploma offered by SOAF. We learnt about different types of chocolate and tasted some amazing Venezuelan white chocolate that was unlike any I had tasted before. It was unique in that it didn’t leave a greasy film in my mouth. After being talked through the theory and how to temper in the microwave we moved on to making our moulded chocolates. It was interesting to learn that tempered chocolate will set after 2 minutes at room temperature.

First job was to polish the moulds, then paint the inside of the moulds with chocolate friendly food dye (must be oil based). After that we set about creating the chocolate shells by filling the moulds with white chocolate, then pouring the excess chocolate out. While the shells were setting we made a lime milk chocolate ganache that was piped into the set moulds.

After superb lunch of roast lamb, potato dauphinoise, carrots along with a glorious cheeseboard, including Lincolnshire Poacher and Stichelton, we returned to the kitchen to cap the lime truffles along with making chilli chocolate bars (the other flavour you could make was tonka bean & thyme) along with some chocolate orange truffles. Towards the end of the day we rolled the truffles in our chocolate coated hands then tossed them in cocoa. This gives them a very subtle crunch when you bit into them. Delicious. Spot the past tense. These chocolate didn’t last long because they were so good!

Chocolate truffles waiting to be dipped

During the course Helen Grace Ventura Thompson was around taking photographs of the day. She’s an incredibly talented photographer, currently studying BA (Hons) Photography; Editorial and Advertising, and it is her photos that illustrate this blogpost. It wasn’t practical for me to take my camera in the class so I was very pleased she was there! Make sure you check out her blog her work is fantastic.

At the end of the course Ross commented at how good my chocolate moulding skills were. Maybe there is a hidden chocolatier inside me waiting to get out! I really enjoyed the course and would like to return to SOAF soon. It’s unique place in that is teaching the dying art of artisan produce and it’s fantastic to have a place like this in the Midlands. Well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

Chocolate Truffles

Apple Day – Calke Abbey

Apples are very much a fruit we take for granted. We’re so used to being able to buy them all year round and this can leave our humble British varieties of apple, of which there is over 2000,  feeling undervalued.

Over the last few weeks there has been many events throughout the UK celebrating the wonderful fruit that is the British apple. From the everyday eating apple to apples more suited to culinary uses all types have been celebrated along with the odd quince thrown in for good measure. It just so happens that this year has also been a fabulous year for apples thanks to the sharp cold winter we had this year that helped kill off many of the pests that blight the apple tree.

Yesterday in National Trust’s Calke Abbey held an Apple Day within the gardens while bathed in some glorious Ocober sunshine. Along with being able to taste various varieties of apples there were apples to buy, children’s activities and apple juice that was being made there and then. Freshly squeezed apple juice is unlike anything that has bee bottled. Watching all this happen has made Hubs even more determined to make cider this year as we have so many apples in friend’s gardens that need using up.

Calke Abbey have quite a few events coming up in the next few months and even if you don’t go to an event the kitchen gardens are always worth a visit.

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A Glamping Staycation – the food

previous: A Glamping Staycation – the yurt

Campsites that openly encourage open fires, BBQs and have even built a clay pizza oven for you are quite a rarity and it was the pizza oven that sold this campsite to us.

We cooked pizzas in a clay oven at River Cottage last year so roughly knew what to do. First attempt at pizza wasn’t the best. We rolled the dough too big for the peel and ended up making a kind of calzone. Second attempt with a better heat from the fire and smaller pizzas did the trick. The men took the whole pizza cooking very seriously and managed to make some cracking pizzas. While they didn’t pass the official Napoli pizza rule of cooking in 90 seconds nothing beats a pizza cooked this way.  The dough was just the basic dough from River Cottage: Bread with cherry tomatoes boiled down with a splash of olive oil, garlic and herbs for the tomato sauce then topped with mozzerella, mushrooms and salami.

Once the pizza oven was mastered we then went on to the newly purchased Dutch Oven along with the tripod that allowed us to suspend it over the fire. First thing to be cooked – popcorn. A slightly mad idea of mine but I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work. It did work…kind of. Due to the pot being a bit too close to the fire once all the corn had popped the majority of the corn had burnt to a cinder. However the Dutch Oven proved a perfect method to make a sausage and lentil casserole. First browned the sausages, took them out then browned some onions threw in some tomatoes, lentils, beef stock some mushrooms, returned the sausages to the pan then simmered until the sausages were cooked and lentils beginning to break down. Very tasty and perfect after a long day. I had intended to try and bake some bread inside the Dutch Oven, but never got around to it.

Of course cooking on a campfire means 3 essential things: toasted marshmallows, chocolate stuffed bananas and dampers. Cooking these took me straight back to Guide camp 15 odd years ago. Hubs took his role of Grr Caveman very seriously and whittled some sticks to allow us to cook the bread on. All those years of worshiping Ray Mears paid off. Rather than traditional damper dough we made normal bread dough, gently roasted over the fire then ate some with our main meal and the rest slathered in jam for our pudding. Delicious.

Foraging wise we picked lots of blackberries, which naturally ended up in a rather large jug of Pimms, plus at one point nearly picked what looked like some chanterelle mushrooms but we weren’t 100% they were so left them well alone.

As well as the food we made on site Hereford is known for its apples and cider. Something we were determined to try. There is an offical Cider Trail you can follow but the first place we visited, Carey Organic Cider , was an experience. When we turned up to the farm shop, situated in a barn in the middle of the farm, we were greeted by lots of beautiful produce that had been grown there along with an old  looking cider press and barrels of cider. Unsure as to what type of cider we wanted the gentleman let us try the cider as dry as it comes. I will say I have never tasted such a great cider. The general consensus in the group was to sweeten the cider very slightly to make it medium dry and the gentleman sweetened it with sugar there and then. It was very much like a traditional scrumpy and was rather strong stuff. The 5 litre box we bought didn’t last long. I think I’ve been converted to traditional non-fizzy cider now. Along with the cider they also sold amazing pink-fleshed apples from there. I can’t remember the variety but I think they are old variety. As stupid as this sounds they were the strongest tasting apples I’d had in a long time. Beautifully sweet and tart at the same time. We also visited Stowford Press as Carey Organics is only open on Fridays & Saturdays. The bottles be bought from here have very much been the drink of choice since we returned.

We ate breakfast and dinner on site, but for the majority of days ate Lunch off site usually at the places we we’re visiting. Best lunch was the Hampton Court Cold Platter at Hampton Court Castle (more on this spectacular place on the next post) and worst was an awful sandwich at a historic farm that has been on various BBC series recently. How can I put it, it tasted of the farm.

A Glamping Staycation – the yurt

I’m a big fan of the beautiful, diverse and lush UK. Yes we can go abroad, but with the strikes, volcanic ash etc. I was very glad we decided to stay at home even if we were taking a huge gamble with the weather. But then we are usually the lucky so-and-sos as we managed to have 2 weeks of glorious weather during our 2 week Honeymoon tour of Scotland’s Islands & Highlands and even came back with a tan.

It was Fairy Feltmaker who told us about Woodland Tipi & Yurts back at the beginning of the year and we booked it straight away before the press had cottoned on to the Glamping trend. I has also been featured in Cool Camping.

Glam + Camping = Glamping; but don’t expect it to be like a 5* hotel in the field. Your sleeping under canvas, you share the facilities, and you may see/hear nature around you; It’s still camping. Hubs & I plus friends love camping no matter what style it is. Between us we’ve wildcamped & night hiked in Snowdonia, camped under traditional A-frame tents while Scouts/Guides, slept on a site with just a cold water tap for company and celebrated birthdays under the stars in shadow of a mystical landmark. This was just another camping experience to add to our bow. A particular Trip Advisor review made me chuckle complaining about some aspects of this site, but what to you expect when camping?!

When booking, the site was already significantly full so we didn’t have much choice with weeks or yurts, but we we’re prepared to test my theory that weather is always great the week the kids return to school. I wasn’t wrong. We managed to possibly pick the sunniest and warmest week of the summer. We also managed to pick the yurt, Valley yurt, that appeared to be a bit of a sun spot and with a bit of privacy. It was lovely being able to eat breakfast outside every morning along with spending hours swinging in the hammock and catching up with some books while basking in the sun.

Inside the yurt we had a multitude of lanterns, a kingsized bed, various throws and rugs plus a wood burning stove to keep us warm. Hubs & I had bagged the proper bed while our friends slept on the foam mattresses when they joined us for a few days.

What was refreshing to see was the children on the site being what children should be. Have fun, climbing trees, making friends, going on bug hunts and playing games without TVs and games consoles to distract them.

A Glamping Staycation – food

A Michelin Treat – Northcote

Once a year Hubs & I treat ourselves and go away for a foodie short break. Most of our holidays consist of sleeping under canvas, scrambling to the top of  mountains and eating porridge cooked on a Trangia so once in a while we like to indulge in some understated luxury. Previous escapades have included Blue Reef Cottages on the Isle of Harris, Hotel du Vin in York and last year a double trip to River Cottage.

This year it was my turn to decide on the short break adventure and after some internet research I settled on Nigel Haworth’s Northcote near Blackburn. It ticked my wish list: restaurant with rooms, luxury but still affordable and a foodie experience. The fact it has a Michelin Star was an added bonus.

We arrived on a wet, grey Monday afternoon to be greeted by a warming log fire. After checking-in we were shown our room. Given we were staying in the cheapest room in the hotel, you wouldn’t know. I was very impressed. Huge comfortable bed with plush furnishings, decent toiletries and not just complementary tea & coffee, but also a fridge full of bottled water and Belviour drinks. I’m easily impressed!

That evening we made our way downstairs to sample the tasting menu. I didn’t take any photos of the food as I didn’t feel at all comfortable smuggling my not-so-subtle SLR into the dining room that was full of loved-up couples; however I did spot on the next table to ours someone sneakily taking photos on a compact. I did wonder if she was a fellow food blogger. It started with champagne and canapes in the lounge while we decided which menu to go for. The canapes included: Maple Cured Salmon with Cream Cheese & Chives; Onion & Langoustine Bhajis and Parsnip Crisps with an Onion Mousse for dipping. Next, Hubs went for the traditional tasting menu and me, not feeling as brave, went for the vegetarian menu. Hubs also went for the accompanying wine and I matched with a few courses because I’m a lightweight and I wanted to remember the whole meal! Only the first and the last course were the same for both of us, but I did get a taster of quite a few of Hubs’ courses and the Mutton dish was absolutely stunning and perfectly paired with the Gewurztraminer.

Pressed Red Beetroot, Yellow Beets, Smoked Shallots, Goat’s Curd, Treacle Dressing
Sancerra Rose, Pascal Jolivet, Loire, France 2007

***

Warm Loin of Herdwick Mutton, Jerusalem Artichoke Puree, Honey & Mint Dressing
Gewurztraminer, Les Folastries, Josmeyer, Alsace, France 2007
Butternut squash, Roast Shallots, Fritter

***

Turbot, Cavier, Butternut Squash
Montagne 1er Cru, Château de la Saule, Burgundy, 2007
Tomato Consommé, Mrs Kirkhams Cheese on Toast

***

Shellfish Broth, Orkney Scallops, Langoustine
Cheese Omelette Soufflé, Tomato, Shorrocks Bomber Fondue
Sauvignon Blanc, Single Vineyard, Marlborough, 2007

***

Roe Buck, Potato Wrapped Black Pudding, Pied Bleu Mushrooms, Pickled Damsons
Grenache, Prodical, Clare Valley, Kilikanoon, 2006
Roast Artichoke, Artichoke Puree, Mint & Shallot Dressing

***

Cockerham Goat 3 Ways, Blood Orange & Juniper Sauce
Pinot Noir, Amayna, San Antonio, Chile, 2007
Barley Risotto, Roast Shallots, Curly Kale, Onion Foam

***

Dark Valrhona Chocolate Cylinder, Smoked Nuts, Salted Sheep’s Milk Ice Cream
Moscatel, Lopez Hermanos, Malaga

At the end of the meal were then served a selection of petit fours that included mini Eccles cakes, chocolate dipped honey comb and a delicious dark rum truffle. Apart from the amazing mutton dish I sampled from Hubs’ plate my favourite course was the beetroot course at the beginning and the chocolate pudding at the end. The salted ice cream went superbly with the smoky chocolate. Hubs also said how the mutton course was his favourite, not only for the food, but also for the wine. Although I’m not veggie, I often eat veggie when eating out as to be frank I like vegetables. Given there is few vegetables in season during the months of February, Northcote did a sterling job of producing a delicious and different menu for vegetarians. By the end of the epic meal we had been in the dining room for over 5 hours.

The next day, following our foodie-get-away traditions, we had Afternoon Tea. Don’t ask us why, but at least once a year we make sure we have Afternoon Tea somewhere. A quintessentially British pastime. Who could turn down plates of posh finger sandwiches and cakes all washed down with the finest cups of tea. Afternoon Tea at Northcote certainly didn’t disappoint. Well filled sandwiches and perfectly cooked cakes, the scones with home-made jam and a generous portion of clotted cream were particularly good.

We had a great few days away and I would certainly recommend Northcote for a foodie getaway along with their sister pub The Three Fishes for fantastic food. The staff were fantastic. They were knowledgeable & professional without being snooty. It was the little touches that made the difference. The Molton Brown goodies that were left in the room in the evening, staff who became a familiar face and the member of staff who de-iced our car each morning.

Given the weather wasn’t too great we will admit to spending the rest of the time chilling in our lovely room, reading and watching the Winter Olympics. Sometimes I think we all need to switch off from the world and have some luxurious time to ourselves doing what we want to do.

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