03
Oct 13

Pork and Fennel Ragu

Pork Fennel Ragu

When the days start to get shorter and the weather a touch cooler, there’s nothing like a warm, comforting meal in the evening.

If you’re busy, like me, and want something delicious for supper, but don’t have much time to spend cooking, allow me to introduce my new kitchen savior: the slow cooker.

For me, it is an absolute godsend, as it is just so easy to prepare a good meal in advance with the minimum amount of input. Not only that, but it’s great for batch cooking, which is a great way of saving time, as any extra portions can be individually frozen and reheated when you are in need of a quick meal.

I highly recommend my CrockPot digital slow cooker. It’s easily programmable for up to 20 hours, and has a digital timer, so if you’re at home, you can keep track of how long you have left. It also has a helpful keep warm function which would be great if you are cooking for guests.

I’m a total convert. Our favourite meals so far have included this Pulled Pork recipe which is ridiculously easy and delicious, and my Pork and Fennel Ragu. It makes a really interesting alternative to bolognaise sauce, and has very quickly become a firm favourite. Adjust the fennel and garlic to taste – we like both flavours to be very prominent in the dish.

Pork and Fennel Ragu

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1kg free-range pork, minced

1 bulb garlic

2 tbsp fennel seeds (adjust to taste)

1 x 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes

2 x tubes tomato purée

1 x tube sundried tomato purée

100ml water

1 large glass red wine

3 bay leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method 

Place the oil into a large pan. Add the pork and brown lightly. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for around 5 minutes until fragrant.

Transfer the meat to the slow cooker, followed by the remaining ingredients. Stir well and allow to cook for at least 3 hours until the ragù has become rich and thick. I have been known to cook this for 8 hours on a low heat.

Serve with your choice of pasta. I used pappardelle in the photo, but you can use any gluten free pasta or spaghetti.

It is lovely topped with some finely grated Parmesan cheese. And it tastes even better the next day!


29
Sep 13

Armathwaite Hall Hotel

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Armathwaite Hall Hotel is a large, traditional country house hotel with a brand new spa situated on the northern banks of Bassenthwaite Lake, just north of Keswick in the Northern Lake District. It is set in 400 acres of deer park with fantastic views over the lake and of the fells beyond.

Armathwaite Hall is a great place to stay either as a couple or as a group. The location is lovely and is also a very good base from which to explore the Lake District.

The main hotel itself is very grand. It is a former stately home and dates back to the 17th Century. It is very traditional with wood-panelled walls and stag heads hung above the roaring fires. This is a hotel of two halves however, with a large and modern spa situated at the western end of the hotel.

Guests can either stay in the older part of the hotel, or down in the spa. The spa rooms are large and decorated in a very modern style, complete with flat screen televisions in the room and bathrooms.  It’s just a short walk from the rooms down to the spa to use the outdoor hot tub, pool and treatment rooms, which are open to guests from 7am to 9pm.

The spa building is newly built and is very luxurious, with a delightful relaxation room looking out over the gardens. A wide variety of treatments are offered throughout the day and evening. It would be a great spa to visit as a group, as it’s large and has plenty of space in the spa and around the pool.

Armathwaite Hall has its own Lake View Restaurant and Courtyard Brasserie. We dined in the main restaurant, which is very formal and traditional. The menu offered a good amount of choice, which included two options from the daily flambé menu, which is cooked in front of you in the dining room, by a dedicated chef in the room, which is nice to watch. The food was very good and plenty of gluten free options were given.  We particularly enjoyed the Fell-bred lamb, which was roasted with garlic and rosemary and served with a ratatouille, and the Flambé sea bass with Pernod and served with rice.

Breakfast is taken in the Lake View Restaurant. Again, there is a good amount of choice in terms of hot and cold dishes with some locally sourced items on the cooked breakfast menu. The views are sensational from the restaurant in the morning, and it is such a lovely spot to sit and plan the day ahead.

Armathwaite Hall is a lovely place to stay in the North Lakes. It is a comfortable and characterful hotel, which is well-connected for visiting the main attractions of the area.  It is a very welcoming base for a break, with very friendly staff and a warm and cosy atmosphere.


29
Sep 13

Pumpkin, cardamom and orange cake

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This is a completely delicious, dairy free cake that’s perfect for this time of year. I can’t get enough of it at the moment!

Pumpkin, cardamom and orange cake

Makes one 21cm cake

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 200g finely grated pumpkin
  • 150g cardamom caster sugar
  • 3 large organic eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • zest one large orange, microplaned
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Ingredients for the drizzle:

  • 60g cardamom sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau

Method:

1.Grease and line a 21cm round tin

2.Preheat the oven to 180C

3.Peel and grate the pumpkin finely. I use the Magimix every time

4.Place the eggs, sugar and oil into a stand mixer and whisk vigorously for around 5 minutes

5.Tip in the flour, orange zest and grated pumpkin and mix lightly until combined

6.Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes

7.Make the drizzle by mixing together the sugar and Cointreau

8.When the cake comes out of the oven, prick all over using a cocktail stick, and tip the drizzle over the top

9. Allow to cool and eat immediately!


27
Sep 13

A trip to Burgh Island

Burgh

Burgh Island is a legendary hotel situated on the south coast of England on its own tidal island. Depending on the time of day you visit, you can either cross over to the island by sea tractor or boat, or by Land Rover across the small stretch of sand connecting Burgh Island to Bigbury-on-Sea when the tide is out.

Burgh Island Hotel was constructed in 1929 and has been maintained inside and out faithfully to the Art Deco style with as many original features retained as possible. The hotel is very famous for its guests both of the past and to this day, and is still considered an exclusive and private place to stay.

Burgh Island Hotel is a small and intimate place. It’s an incredibly romantic place to stay, both for its surroundings and exceptionally private surroundings.  Very small children aren’t allowed to stay at the hotel, so it is very much a destination for couples. Non-residents are only permitted to visit the hotel at certain hours, which offers even more privacy for guests.

Just getting to the hotel itself is a great experience. As we arrived by car, we saw our fellow guests touch down on the island’s helipad. We parked in the hotel’s private garages on the mainland and were promptly whisked into a waiting Land Rover and driven over to the hotel, as the tide was out.

The rooms are decorated with as much period furniture and fixtures as possible and feels very in keeping with the Hotel’s heyday. They are extremely comfortable with lovely Egyptian cotton sheets and thick, fluffy towels. All rooms, however, have been recently refurbished to include sparkling new bathrooms (our room had the bath in the bedroom itself!) and all the modern comforts you would expect from a top hotel – with the one exception – no televisions, just a lovely retro Bush radio in our room. In fact, there are no televisions in the hotel, something we really enjoyed, just listening to the radio, or the waves crashing outside.

You’re very aware of the unique location of the hotel when staying at Burgh Island. There is the view of the ocean from the bath, to the sea-scented toiletries in the room, to taking an aperitif outside before dinner. In fact, there is even a little beach house on the far edge of the island, which Agatha Christie used to write from, as she found Burgh Island so inspiring.

There is much to do on the island itself. We swam first thing in the morning in the beautiful mermaid pool, which joins the sea. It’s cold, but incredibly invigorating. There are tennis courts, and walking around the island is a must – it is simply stunning. On rainy days, there is a cinema room, a small library, a table tennis room and snooker table to keep you occupied.

Dinner at Burgh Island is a formal affair. In fact, guests are advised that the dress code is Black tie, and in fact, you cannot be to overdressed. This was certainly the case on our visit, with ladies in full evening dress. This is a really fun element to your stay, and one that guests seem to relish. The dining room is decorated in original Art Deco style, with tables mainly set around the edge of the room – it’s definitely a place for people watching. The food is very good indeed, and the menu features ingredients sourced from a 20 mile radius from the hotel, with some ingredients such as salad grown in polytunnels on the island itself. Breakfast was fantastic, with a really wide selection of dishes available and is served overlooking the mainland. If the weather is good, as it was when we were there, you can take breakfast outside.

Burgh Island is a fun and exceptionally glamorous, private place to stay for a break. Guests were a mixture of regulars and those celebrating a special occasion. Expect to pay £400-500 per night per couple for dinner, bed and breakfast with wine, depending on room type. One thing’s for sure: it’ll be an unforgettable experience.


25
Sep 13

Autumn warmer

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Now that the weather has taken a turn cooler, I’m finding I want more comforting meals. Gone are salads – I want something hot to eat in the evening.

I’m always in search of something hot and filling to enjoy in the evening, but I want it to be healthy, too.

I love this dish – it’s a cross between a ratatouille and caponata. It’s super simple to make – to get it on the table sooner rather than later, simply slice the vegetables thinner than you might do normally – around 3mm slices should do the trick.

Serve with rice or some good bread.

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large aubergine

2 medium courgettes

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

300g mushrooms, thinly sliced

2  x 400g tins chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper

A generous handful finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Method

Place the olive oil into a large, non-stick pan over a moderate heat. Add the aubergines and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the courgettes, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Allow to bubble away gently for 15 minutes.

The vegetables will now be ready to serve. Serve generously topped with fresh basil, and with your chosen accompaniment on the side.

 


19
Sep 13

Buckland Tout Saints Hotel

BTS

We decided to pop down to Devon for the Bank Holiday as the weather was forecast to be the best in the country in the South West. Buckland Tout Saints was our hotel of choice for our stay. Nestled in the rolling countryside on the outskirts of the hamlet sharing the same name, it was a really great place to stay. Getting to Buckland Tout Saints is not difficult, yet the last mile or so running up to the hotel leads you down tiny country lanes. As you arrive at the hotel, the Hotel building itself faces you, and the view opens up to reveal rolling hills and fields as far as the eye can see.

The land on which the hotel stands was part of a huge estate in Saxon Britain, which was taken by William in the Norman invasion and mentioned in the Domesday Book. There has been a house on the estate for centuries, but it was radically altered at the end of the 19th Century. It has changed hands a number of times throughout the years, and was turned into a hotel not long after 1953 when the last owner died.  The hotel was bought by Sir Peter Rigby in 2005 to form one of seven hotels in his Eden Hotel Collection.

One of the main attractions about the hotel is its location. It’s just over two miles out of Kingsbridge and eight to Salcombe, both very popular South Devon towns to visit on holiday. The hotel itself is small with just 16 bedrooms. Its idyllic setting is perfect for those who want a quiet and private place to stay.

The decor is very traditional, in keeping with the age of the building. The main dining room is wood panelled and the Queen Anne room where we took our breakfast is decorated in Wedgwood colours. The views from this room in particular are delightful and breakfast sat here is a wonderful way to start the day.

As we arrived mid- afternoon, we had time for a quick game of croquet on the lawn outside the hotel. There are tennis courts and bikes to borrow should you wish to do something active, too. Our Deluxe room was lovely – very large with a monogrammed four-poster bed, and great views from the front of the house over the fields. We were really pleased to find a platter of fresh fruit waiting for us in our room. The fruit was absolutely delicious and we really preferred this to biscuits or cakes that are so often on offer.

That night, we dined in the hotel restaurant. The food was outstandingly good, with much produce sourced locally.  The standout starter for us was the Salcombe crab, served with pineapple chutney, goats curd and brown crab puree, which was really special. The combination of flavours sounds unusual, but was really interesting. For our mains, we liked both choices so much, we swapped half way through. We loved the Roasted tail of monkfish with curried lentils, golden raisin puree and coriander cress. The assiette of new season lamb was cooked really pink and was served on a beautiful risotto made from pearl barley which was full of fresh herbs. Both were excellent.

Buckland Tout Saints is a wonderful place to visit for a restful and private break. Expect to pay around £300 per couple for dinner, bed and breakfast. The hotel is extremely comfortable and the staff are really helpful and friendly. The food is very good indeed. A visit is highly recommended.


08
Sep 13

Poached rhubarb with orange and cardamom and rosemary ice cream

ice

I wanted to share a fantastic dessert I made recently.

This ice cream is amazing with all manner of tarts, particularly apple and rhubarb, but, looking for something lighter on this occasion, I decided to poach some fresh, local rhubarb with orange and cardamom to accompany the ice cream. This took just a matter of minutes in this gorgeous Italian copper pan from Cream Supplies. The two were such a good match, but either would be delicious on its own. They make a delicious, easy to make dessert, which can also be prepared in advance. 

Poached rhubarb with orange and cardamom and rosemary ice cream 

Serves 4

Well, the rhubarb part isn’t really a recipe. I placed  around 500g of rhubarb into the pan. Added the zest of a large orange, four heaped tablespoons of cardamom sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. I poached the rhubarb for around 10 minutes over a moderate heat until tender, but not too long as I didn’t want it to fall apart. I decanted it into a bowl and chilled in the fridge before serving.

To make the ice cream. I followed this recipe (or use any simple vanilla custard ice cream recipe) and infuse it with one large, bruised sprig of rosemary. Pass through a metal sieve to ensure there are no needles left in the custard before freezing.

Serve the two together for a seriously delicious dessert.


02
Sep 13

Goat Chelsea

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Goat Chelsea is a newly opened cocktail bar and restaurant on the Fulham Road in London, occupying the spot of a 350 year old pub. It’s a very stylish, glamorous spot, with deep blue walls, polished wood floors, plenty of original features and a beautiful bar.

The menu describes itself as offering New York-Italian dishes served with delicious cocktails. There is certainly plenty of choice on offer with a great selection of cold meats, pizza, salads and main dishes available. 

We started with some fantastic Italian meats, which included mortadella, culatello, proscuitto toscano and finocchiona. All of which were excellent and made fantastic start to the meal. Moving onto our mains, we sampled the pizzas (bufala campana, heirloom tomato, basilica) which was fantastically good, and the grilled monkfish which was also excellent. 

To drink, we stuck with the cocktails which were really excellent – so well made and rather too delicious. Feeling merry and content, we headed home. Goat Chelsea is a fantastic spot in London to enjoy a superb meal and delicious cocktails. Well worth a visit!


22
Aug 13

A day on the farm

On the farm in Gloucestershire

On the farm in Gloucestershire

How important is the quality and provenance of the meat you eat to you? I must admit it extremely important to me, not only from a welfare point of view, but taste, too. Eating cheap, poorly produced meat is really not a pleasant experience. I’m not alone in this respect, with celebrity supporters of high-welfare meat including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Elizabeth Hurley.

This is all well and good, but how do you know your meat has been produced according to the standards you expect? This is something I was keen to learn more about, so I recently spent the day on Paul and Kirsty Westaway’s farm in Gloucestershire to find out more about how good meat is produced and where you can buy it.

Gamage Hall Farm, home to Paul and Kirsty, is situated on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire borders, surrounded by rolling hills and lush green fields. As soon as we arrived, we donned our wellington boots and headed out to meet their cattle. The farm is spread over 170 acres which provides plenty of space for the cattle to graze and for them to grow their own feed, which is a mix of maize and Red Clover, which is crucial in terms of giving the meat the best flavour possible. Paul’s cattle are a mix of Aberdeen Angus, Holstein and Hereford breeds, all of which have different qualities, but the aim in rearing the cattle is to produce the best quality meat possible. First up, we met Gareth, their Aberdeen Angus bull, who is ranked as the best bull in Europe. A mighty and powerful creature, he is the father of much of the cattle on the farm. It was great to walk around the farm and see the cattle. They were genuinely well cared for and seemed contented. Look at these gorgeous bulls being fed!

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Walking around the farm really got me thinking that this is exactly where I expect my meat to come from. I want my meat to have been reared on a farm which gives the animal a lovely life. Here, every animal has its own passport. Every time it is moved, it has to be logged in the passport, meaning every move it makes can be fully traced. The experience at the abbatoir for the animal is as pleasant as it can possibly be, and the meat is hung long enough and prepared well enough for the best results.

Delicious steaks as the end product

Delicious steaks as the end product

The beef and lamb reared on farms like Paul and Kirsty’s is sold in supermarkets and butchers, and is marked with the Quality Standard Mark and Red Tractor symbol on the packaging, which guarantee that the meat you’re buying, be it from the supermarket or butchers has been reared and slaughtered to the highest of standards. It means the welfare of the animals is paramount and they have been well looked after. There is full provenance and traceability for the meat, and that it will be delicious to eat. That’s exactly the kind of meat I want to enjoy.

For more information and recipes, please see www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk.


18
Aug 13

My book launch!

Book Launch

Last Thursday was a bit of a crazy day for me. It was my book launch day, and book launch party in London. What a day it was. Like no other really. I spent most of the day bombarded with lovely messages, calls and flowers, which was so touching, and then I dashed over to Goat Chelsea, the launch venue, to help set up.

It was the most beautiful sunny day and rumoured to be the hottest August day in 10 years. It certainly felt like it as I trekked across town with my bags! My lovely team from the publishers came to meet me at the venue, which was a great opportunity to catch up face to face – there are surprisingly few opportunities to see your publishers in the flesh, despite almost daily email contact in the book writing process.

I was really touched that so many people came along: it’s always scary when organising an event – you hope people will actually turn up! The venue, Goat, was absolutely fantastic and really went out of their way to make every aspect of the event just right. They organised some special cocktails for us on the night; pineapple margaritas and a run and ginger cocktail. Both of which were really fantastic and very popular indeed.

Attending your own book launch is a strange experience. It was so much fun and absolutely wonderful to see my colleagues, friends and family all in one place. The evening seemed to go by in a blur as I tried to speak to everyone. It was so much fun – I’m already looking forward to the next one!

For more detail on the night, please see this report by HELLO! Online.

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