April, 2013

Apr 13

Luxury in the Lakes

Linthwaite House Hotel

Linthwaite House Hotel

Linthwaite Country House Hotel must be one of the most beautifully situated hotels in the country; adjacent to Lake Windermere and enjoying stunning views across the Lake from the grounds, lounges and many bedrooms. It has 14 acres of its own grounds, which even includes its own tarn which guests are free to explore.

It is a small, friendly and cosy hotel, which is tastefully decorated in a modern and sleek way that doesn’t feel fussy or overly formal. We received an extremely warm welcome and were shown around our room with wide-reaching views across the Lake. The room was large, yet cosy, luxurious and indulgent with every detail well designed and thought out. After a long day out exploring the wilds of the Lake District National Park, Linthwaite is a wonderful place to return to, with immaculate bathrooms, thick towels, crisp sheets and even a DVD library to hand to unwind with.

All staff are extremely friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and proactive, yet entirely willing to assist and extremely personable. Linthwaite is a small, independent hotel and offers free use of a local spa, gym and bookable beauty treatments in house, meaning guests can enjoy the intimate feel of a small hotel, yet all the amenities of a larger establishment.

Linthwaite has its own excellent restaurant which is well worth a visit even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Reservations are made half an hour before you sit down to eat so that you can enjoy watching the sun set in one of the comfortable lounges, or on the terrace if the weather’s fine, accompanied by an aperitif and some delicious homemade nibbles. Special diets are catered for with advance notice, and we were offered a beautifully presented, specially prepared selection of delicious treats to enjoy with our champagne.

There is a tasting menu and an A la Carte menu to choose from, with the main menu offering around four choices for each course. We particularly enjoyed a starter of dressed crab with lemongrass jelly and butternut squash, and a poached fillet of lemon sole for the main course. The wine list is excellent and extensive and staff are extremely knowledgeable and willing to advise when it comes to wine pairings.

Breakfasts are excellent, offering a wide selection of delicious and interesting treats, such as roasted plums, potato rösti with caramelized onions, French toast and homemade smoothies, as well as the more usual offerings.

Linthwaite Country House Hotel is highly recommended as a wonderful place to relax in complete luxury, with superb food in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

Apr 13

Making a wedding cake: Part Two

What we're aiming for! Photo from Bridal Truth

What we’re aiming for!
Photo from Bridal Truth

The next step in baking a wedding cake (see here, if you missed Part One!) is the decoration.

Now, there are a million and one permutations for decorating a wedding cake, and it all comes down to the preferred style of the bride and groom, but it is increasingly popular to start with a simple white iced cake and decorate it from there.

It is not hard to decorate a cake yourself, but you do need to be very accurate, have a clear idea of the design you’re aiming for, and to have good equipment.

My go-to website for wedding cake supplies is MakeBake which offers an amazing array of cake decorating equipment. Of all the equipment I have found useful, I would particularly recommend an icing smoother and polisher, the icing mat which is so helpful for rolling out your icing accurately, cake boards, cake tins, and decorating supplies, such as edible pearls. I also managed to pick up a really large cupcake carrier, which will be perfect for transporting cupcakes to the hen party, too.

When it comes to icing a wedding cake this video of Dan Lepard icing a cake is tremendously useful.

Do make the time to have a practice run. In fact, you can get polystyrene cake layers from MakeBake on which you can practice your icing to save you having to bake a cake especially to ice.

Finish your iced cake with coordinating ribbons around the base and fresh or fondant flowers. Please do pop back in the near future for photos of my cake on the big day!

Here's a slice of my completed trial run wedding cake!

Here’s a slice of my completed trial run wedding cake!

Apr 13

Making a wedding cake: Part One

A wedding cake in the making

A wedding cake in the making

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I am a keen cake maker. I’ve made thousands of cakes in my time and even make them for a living, but I am taking on my greatest baking challenge to date this year: baking a wedding cake for a very special wedding this year.

Where do you start? Well, obviously the first things we agreed on is that it has to taste great, and look good, too.

It seems popular at the moment to go for a round cake, with a different flavour for each tier, and that’s what we decided to go for. I knew which recipes I’d use based on favourite cakes baked in the past, but I would have to scale up the recipes accordingly, as we decided to go for a five tier cake, with 6/8/10/12/14 inch tiers. Even I have never made a 14 inch chocolate cake before.

Next, I wanted to find the best cake tins to use – I needed great quality non-stick tins. A good quality cake tin makes all the difference. Using one which is of a good weight and construction is essential to avoid a tough crust forming around the edge of a cake and that it bakes through evenly. A springform tin is ideal as it makes releasing the cake from the tin straightforward and minimizes the risk of damaging your cake. The best tins I found were made by Kaiser and Judge, which I will be using on the day. They have a great non-stick coating, are easy to use, and produce excellent results.

It is really important to do a test run, to make sure you have the timings correct and that you have enough mixture in each tin.

I did a practice run with an 8” victoria sandwich for one of the layers. Each cake would consist of three layers of sponge with a jam and buttercream filling.

I used this recipe written by Rose Prince for a Victoria Sandwich which is very good, and scaled it up to an 8 egg recipe. It works exceptionally well using gluten free self raising flour and dairy free margarine, too.

For the buttercream, I simply combined 200g of butter with 200g of sifted icing sugar, beaten well until smooth. You can make an allergy-friendly version of this, or just stick to jam. To assemble the wedding cake, you simply sandwich the layers together, as above in the photo, and then you’re ready to get icing!

I have also been practicing making cupcakes, using this recipe, as a special surprise for the hen party.

Look out soon for Part Two, which will cover the cake decoration!

Apr 13

A superfood sundae

Superfood sundae

Superfood sundae

We all love a frozen treat, particularly when the weather is warm, and this is one of my favourite low-fat, nutritious desserts. It may sound like a slightly strange combination of ingredients but I promise you they all work fantastically well together, making a healthy dessert that’s full of flavour and texture.

Frozen yoghurt is much lower in fat than ice cream, and the fruit adds one of your five a day with plenty of essential fats and protein from the pumpkin seeds. A drizzle of maple syrup is naughty but nice, but do use Organic if you can, as some maple syrups are not pure. I used YooMoo frozen yoghurt which is really tasty and very low in fat and calories.

Superfood sundae

Makes 1 sundae


1 large scoop vanillamoo vanilla frozen yoghurt

¼ small banana, sliced

40g blueberries

1 tsp Organic maple syrup

1 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds


1)   Place the frozen yogurt into a bowl or sundae dish.

2)   Scatter over the banana slices and blueberries.

3)   Drizzle over the maple syrup and finish by topping with the pumpkin seeds. Enjoy immediately!

Apr 13

Espresso chocolate moelleux


Espresso chocolate moelleux

Espresso chocolate moelleux

Having recently learnt how to make the perfect cup of coffee, I’ve been busy practicing at home and decided to try baking with a delicious shot of espresso.

I just prepared a standard shot of coffee in exactly the same way as I would to make a cup of coffee using my machine at home and left it to cool. You don’t want to use hot liquids when you are baking, as it will affect the properties of the other ingredients in the mix. This is particularly the case when baking with eggs, as if they come into contact with any hot liquids, they will curdle.

I was mulling over what to make and decided on a moelleux, which is a deliciously dense and moist chocolate cake that’s very popular in France. It’s quite like a lighter version of a brownie and is very easy to make.

I’ve also been using a Gaggia Carezza coffee machine from John Lewis which works extremely well and is a lot cheaper than the models I tried on my coffee making masterclass.

Espresso chocolate moelleux

Makes 12 large slices


225g 70% cocoa dark chocolate

1 shot espresso, cooled

225g vanilla caster sugar

225g butter

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch sea salt

65g plain four (gluten free or wheat flour)

1 tsp baking powder


1)   Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 9” square baking tin with non-stick baking paper.

2)   Carefully melt the chocolate in a bain marie or in the microwave. Once melted, stir in the cooled coffee and allow to cool.

3)   Using the Kitchen Aid, whisk the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla and sea salt and pour in the melted chocolate. Whisk well until the chocolate is evenly combined with the butter and sugar

4)   Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in to the mix gently. It will be a light and fluffy cake mixture by now.

5)   Spoon into the prepared tin and level off using a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top has formed a crust. The middle will still be pretty wet.

6)   Allow the cake to cool in the tin for at least 45 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. It can be sliced when cold or refrigerated overnight and then cut the next day.

Apr 13

Celtic Manor

The pool

The pool

Celtic Manor is large, multi award winning five star hotel located in South Wales, at the foot of the Usk Valley. It is a very large hotel indeed; it calls itself a resort, and is well-known for its Golf Course, Spa and restaurants. It is owned by the Billionaire Welsh entrepreneur, Sir Terry Matthews.

We recently paid a visit to see what it was like and try the food for ourselves. Celtic Manor is very easy to get to by road, and the hotel itself is situated on the top of a hill, with wide-reaching views from the bedrooms and spa.


Hotel rooms are large, with plenty of space for luggage and storage. We stayed in a Presidential Suite, with a very large sitting room, marble bathroom and two balconies, which was very comfortable. The restaurants, spa and gym can be found on the lower floors of the hotel with the rooms above, which makes it very easy to get around.

The spa has a very nice pool and several sauna and steam room. We tried a couple of spa treatments each during our stay using Elemis products, which were very relaxing indeed.

Terry M Restaurant

Terry M Restaurant

Food-wise, you are spoilt for choice at Celtic Manor. We liked Terry M very much, which is the hotel’s flagship restaurant, run by Head Chef Tim McDougall and Ronan Hunter as Restaurant Manager. Offering a five course tasting menu plus an à la carte menu, the menu offers a lovely selection of dishes, which use locally sourced fish and meat. Restaurant Manager Ronan was utterly charming and paid much attention and care to our dietary requirements, even down to the amouse bouches. We enjoyed an excellent dinner in relaxed, glamorous settings and it was wonderful to end the evening just a few steps away from our hotel room and not have to travel back afterwards.

The Celtic Manor resort has recently purchased a 200-year-old pub in the Usk Valley, Newbridge on Usk, which is another option for an evening meal for guests. The hotel offers a very helpful concierge service, which will transport you to the restaurant and back, which is a big plus.

Celtic Manor is a great destination for a luxurious, relaxing spa or sporty break with the opportunity to try some great local food, and is a well-connected base from which to explore the delights of South Wales.

How to get there: Celtic Manor is easily accessible by road and is situated just off the M4 motorway. By rail, catch the train to Newport, and it’s a short taxi ride from there.

Things to do: Although there is plenty to do at the resort, Cardiff City Centre is a great place to visit with plenty of lovely shops and interesting arcades to explore. Caerphilly Castle is also well worth a visit and has been used to film countless films and TV series.

Apr 13

Cooking up a storm with Eric Lanlard

Mocha Shortbread

Mocha Shortbread

I recently attended a Cocktails and Cupcakes event in London with celebrity chef Eric Lanlard in partnership with Neilsen-Massey, the century-old, family owned producer of exceptional quality vanilla and flavour extracts. Watch Eric and Matt Neilsen in action on the evening here here.

Neilsen-Massey produce a wide range of pure Madagascan vanilla extracts and flavours, including rose, chocolate, coffee, and almond, all of which are of the highest quality available. Eric’s passion for baking has always involved using the best ingredients available and has been a fan of Neilsen- Massey products for years.

I couldn’t wait to get home and start to play with these delicious flavourings. We particularly enjoyed these mocha shortbread biscuits I made. I only made little biscuits which are perfect for a little nibble with a cup of coffee. They’re really rich and intensely flavoured and very moreish despite not being too sweet. The coffee and chocolate extract add a subtle, sophisticated depth of flavour to the biscuits. Do give them a go!

Mocha Shortbread

Makes around 20 biscuits


120g butter

1 tsp Neilsen-Massey coffee extract

1 tsp Neilsen-Massey chocolate extract

60g caster sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling

30g cocoa powder, sifted

120g plain flour, either wheat or gluten free flour blend, sifted


1)   Preheat the oven to 170C

2)   Cream the butter, coffee extract, chocolate extract and caster sugar together until fluffy.

3)   Add the sifted cocoa powder and flour and beat together to firm a stiff dough.

4)   Bring the dough together into a ball and roll out to approximately 1cm thick between two sheets of cling film. Cut into 3cm diameter discs.

5)   Lay the discs out onto a baking tray covered in non-stick baking paper.

6)   Bake the discs for 15 minutes until just firm.

7)   Sprinkle with caster sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool fully before tucking in!

Apr 13

Méribel: A-list ski resort and foodie heaven

Looking down at Méribel from the slopes

Looking down at Méribel from the slopes

I’ve just returned from a fantastic ski trip to the French Alps, staying in Méribel, which is simply the most perfect ski resort, offering A-list luxury and incredible food for any serious foodie like me. It is friendly, fun and picture perfect being a traditional chalet resort.

We stayed at Chalet du Vallon, run by Avery Crest, which was the best possible base we could have had for our stay and we would very highly recommend it. As you might expect, the views were incredible from every room and we loved waking up to the spectacular views of the mountains in the morning, and sitting down to enjoy a glass of champagne next to the log fire looking out across the village after a day on the slopes.

Chalet du Vallon

Chalet du Vallon

Chalet du Vallon comes with own chef in the chalet, Adam Jowett, who is a very accomplished chef having worked in a number of top restaurants back in the UK, and Jess who was there to look after us very well, so we immediately felt very relaxed and in full holiday mode, as really, there was nothing for us to do but ski and enjoy ourselves.

Every evening we were treated to a delicious three-course meal, which included fantastic local charcuterie, meat and cheeses, all from the Savoie region. We had some delicious local venison one evening, and a selection of superb local cheeses every night after dinner, including local Beaufort Hiver, Abondance, Tarentaise & St Marcellin. The food was exceptionally delicious.

Chef Adam at work in Chalet du Vallon

Chef Adam at work in Chalet du Vallon

All this merriment was balanced out with plenty of time on the slopes, however. We had an instructor with us the whole time from the École du Ski Français, Claire Radecka, who was the best instructor we could have asked for. We both made huge amounts of progress with her and she was so much fun to be with. Fortunately, we didn’t need to spend any time travelling around whilst we were in Méribel though, as the ski lift was just a few steps from the chalet.

To break up the day, we all stopped (instructors, too) for lunch at Le Blanchot on the slopes which is a great alpine restaurant serving traditional French food and plenty of Savoie specialities in enormous portions in cosy surroundings. It’s a favourite local spot for lunch.

There are some great shops, restaurants and bars in Méribel, although we only managed to pop in once to go to a fantastic bar called La Maison. Run by a chic French married couple, it has a wonderfully vintage look to it, which is rare to find in France. They served an excellent selection of delicious Savoyard wines and charcuterie. The bakery in Méribel Village is outstandingly good. Le Village des Pains is run by a lovely couple, and we were lucky enough to have a tour on the last day. A traditional wood-fired oven is still used to bake hundreds on baguettes and patisserie every day.

If you love to ski and haven’t been to Méribel, we’d highly recommend it. It’s luxurious and fun yet discreet, and Chalet du Vallon is such a perfect place to relax and unwind.

Apr 13

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental Hotel, Park Lane

Theo Randall

Theo Randall

Consistently voted one of London’s finest Italian restaurants, Theo Randall at the Intercontinental Hotel enjoys an excellent reputation and is one of the top foodie destinations in the city. Randall opened his own restaurant in 2006 having previously worked at Chez Panisse in California and obtained a Michelin star whilst working at the River Café in London.

I recently popped along for lunch to see what it was like for myself. Theo Randall occupies its own separate dining room in the hotel, which is accessed from the hotel lobby. It’s slick, modern and very glamorous and a very calm, relaxing place to stop for lunch and catch up with friends or colleagues.

The menu offers plenty of choice – so much so that we had difficulty choosing. As we took our seats, we decided to start with a glass of Prosecco whilst we took a look through the menu. Our waitress brought over a generous selection of hot snacks including little fried pieces of courgette to nibble on.

For our starter, we decided to go for two plates to share. We tried the Mozzarella di Bufula, served with marinated artichokes and peppers, and the scallops to share which were hand dived and the most enormous scallops we’ve ever seen, and probably the most delicious we’ve ever tasted.

Next, was the pasta course, which is of course optional, but we decided to give it a go. We went for the Cappelletti di vitello, stuffed pasta, filled with slow cooked veal and pancetta. The pasta is homemade, and a beautiful golden colour owing to the large number of egg yolks used in the pasta dough. The meat was full of flavour and meltingly tender.

We then moved onto our mains. I chose Turbot with capers and swiss chard. The fish was cooked absolutely perfectly and was an exceptionally good dish. My guest tried the fish stew, which she enjoyed very much indeed. The portions were extremely generous and the fish was of the very best quality.

We could not manage a dessert, which was a great shame, as the choice looked wonderful, so we finished we a good cup of coffee.

Theo Randall did not disappoint. Every dish we tried we thought was utterly delicious, extremely well executed, beautifully presented in lovely surroundings. If you try three or four courses, you should expect to pay around £100 per head. We found that there was plenty of choice and every dish we tried was most enjoyable. Theo Randall deserves every bit of its success, and we look forward to returning already.

Apr 13




Zoilo is a newly opened Argentinian restaurant situated just off of Wigmore Street in London. It is the latest venture of Alberto Abbate who runs a number of popular London restaurants and chef Diego Jacquet.

Stepping in to Zoilo through a heavy grey door and a thick, dark curtain you are instantly transported into a slick and modern Argentinian haven which is very atmospherically lit and really comes into its own in the evening. With two levels, you can sit upstairs near the bar or downstairs and watch the chefs work their magic.

The menu offers eight starters and mains, some of which may be familiar choices and some interesting regional Argentinian dishes to try too. There is plenty of choice beyond steak and the waiters were very flexible offering to chop and change choices according to guests’ preferences.

The most popular option is to start with a selection of tapas and move onto a main dish. I tried a fantastic starter of prawns al ajo, with pork belly and chorizo at £8.95, and a chicken, grilled pepper and cumin empanada at £3.50. Both were excellent and I particularly enjoyed the garlic sauce which the prawns were cooked in.

For my main course, I tried their most popular dish, ojo de bife with chimichurri, a rib eye steak with the famous Argentinian sauce which is made from a mix of wine vinegar, garlic and herbs, at £21.95. The steak was full of flavour, tender and perfectly cooked. The steak at Zoilo comes from Argentina from a select number of farms used there. They mitigate the environmental impact by using filtered water instead of bottled, and by cooking practically everything else in house.

Desserts are all homemade and were outrageously good. I tried the banana and dulce de leche ice cream, which was packed with banana chunks and thick swirls of La Salamandra dulce de leche.

For authentic Argentinian food of excellent quality superbly executed and some outstanding Argentinian wines, Zoilo is highly recommended. If you fancy being more adventurous, there are some lovely dishes to try, and if you just fancy an excellent steak with a delicious glass of wine, it is an ideal choice. 

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