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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Lakeland Christmas Gift Ideas

Here's a few little Christmas ideas that I spotted at the Lakeland Christmas show earlier in the year. I might have to put a few of them on my own list this year!

Starting off with some Doctor Who goodies:
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Fabulous Dalek cake stand for cupcakes £7.99, also pictured are Tardis chocolate mould and dusting set for cakes and hot drinks.

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The daddy of all cake moulds - silicon Dalek cake mould, £16.99.

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Cake decorating kit has a cake band and all the little cake topper figures, £4.99, also pictured is a silicone cake pan with indentations of characters from the show, £12,99.

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Liquid sea salted caramel sauce, need I say more? £7.99.

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Deco Spoons - these spoons are great (if a little fiddly) for adding a little decoration to your plated desserts and you get two different sizes in the pack, £14.99.

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A particularly cool gadget that separates the yolks from the whites of the egg with a squeeze! Yolk Hero £6.99.

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Pasta making equipment - the machine is £22.99 and you can buy extra attachments for it.

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I love my Damascus paring knife which is the baby in this range of beautiful knives. The knives undergo a process of "lamination where the super-hard carbon steel core is layered with 67 coatings of stainless steel for a distinctive blade that is strong yet flexible with a superior cutting edge". The handles are really comfortable to hold and I like the weight of the knives, from £29.99.

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Make your own stamped biscuits with this kit, comprising of 3 silicone stamps, a cutter, 6 gift boxes with labels and a recipe booklet £14.99.

I tasted the wines and cider from the kits and they were rather good. Lakeland have been working with the suppliers for several years to come up with the best tasting wines you can make at home. 
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Beer maker and wine maker starter kits, prices vary.  

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Mad Millie Cider Kit - contains everything you need to make 9 litres of cider (taking 21 days) £99.99. There's also a pear refill kit and a strawberry & pear refill kit, costing £26.99 for another 9 litres of cider.

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Goodies for the home cheese making enthusiast, prices vary.

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A little something for me! Spice up your life with The Hot Box - £24.99.

Disclosure: I attended the Lakeland Christmas Preview Show and was given samples of some of the items above. I was not asked to write this post, all views written here are my own.

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This content belongs to Nic at Cherrapeno. All writing and photography copyright N Fowers © 2007-2013 unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Heathcliff's Restaurant at Hollins Hall, a River Cottage Partnership - Review

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Hollins Hall, a Marriott Hotel
There's an exciting new culinary partnership in town, or I should say in the UK, as Marriott Hotels and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage come together on a mission to revolutionise the food we eat in UK hotels. 

Beginning with Hollins Hall and Cardiff Marriott, seasonal, sustainable menus are being launched, featuring organic meat and vegetables supplied from local farmers, created
in collaboration with River Cottage. The plan is to roll this out wider, covering more of Marriott Hotels and becoming sustainability leaders within the hotel industry.

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Seasonal vegetables being used in the dishes

The chefs at both hotels have undergone training at the River Cottage Chefs' School and the new menus embrace the 'SLOW' philosophy – Seasonal, Local, Organic and Wild. At Hollins Hall, the menu changes frequently, sometimes daily depending upon what produce has been sourced, with at least 80% coming from within a 60 mile radius. All meat used in the restaurant is organic, the chicken is free range and Marriott have a Future Fish programme that aims to select and serve fish and shellfish from sustainable sources. Waste management policies in effect mean reducing food wasted to no more than 5%.

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Menus printed on recycled paper

I had the opportunity to try out the new menu at Heathcliff's Restaurant, which is in the Hollins Hall Marriott (a country club hotel in West Yorkshire), and I was very impressed. The restaurant was comfortable and homely, not at all pretentious, and there was a large chalkboard displaying the special dishes of the day. The menu was not huge which I was pleased to see - I prefer fewer dishes nicely prepared - but there was plenty of choice with 6 starters, 6 mains, 5 side dishes and 5 desserts (+ the specials). There was also an amazing cheeseboard which I will come to later. I thought the prices were very reasonable, with starters from £4.95, mains from £12.00 and desserts from £5.95. The side dishes were all priced at £3.00 each and best shared as the portions were fairly large.

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The waiting staff were superb, and so proud of what they are trying to achieve at the restaurant. I think our waiter was a little disappointed that more customers didn't ask questions about the food, such as where it came from, how it had been reared/caught and the cooking methods. I guess some people aren't bothered which is a shame.
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Anyway, onto our food! One of the more appealing aspects of the menu was the vegetarian choices: out of the six main dishes two were vegetarian and three of the starters were too. We decided to choose dishes that we hadn't had before, and I can honestly say that most of the dishes were different to your usual (hotel) restaurant fare. So with that in mind, we started with the Beetroot Hummus and Butternut Squash, Goats' Cheese & Mint Arancini. Luckily my husband is a sharer and I always get to try his food (but what a shame he's a non-meat eater though, I got to have my main all for myself!). 

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Butternut Squash, Goats' Cheese & Mint Arancini

I tried making arancini once and they went down like a lead bowling ball. These ones were smaller and crispier, with stronger cheese and more of it, the butternut squash adding a little sweetness to them.

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Beetroot Hummus served with Grilled Flat Breads

My husband really enjoyed this as he is a major beetroot fan and doesn't get it often enough at home. With a slightly smokey flavour, the beetroot hummus was smooth and was accompanied with plenty of grilled flat breads.

Our main dishes were Steamed Fillet of Whiting and Slow Cooked Swillington Lamb with Celeriac & Chilli Mash, both recommended by our waiter. The fish supplier for Heathcliff's is M&J Seafood, Warrington and the lamb came from Swillington Organic Farm

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Steamed Fillet of Whiting

A beautiful piece of fish, served on top of a leek, mussel and thyme chowder. I liked that you could see the vegetables and mussels in the chowder, it was a marvellous winter warmer of a dish.

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Slow Cooked Swillington Lamb with Celeriac & Chilli Mash

The lamb had been slow cooked for 8 hours, pulled apart and then made into a sort of cylindrical shape. I thought it was a different way to present pulled lamb - it was a mega amount of meat though! It was extremely tender and sat on top of the celeriac and chilli mash, accompanied with a fabulous gravy. I wouldn't have known the chilli was there, but you know me, I do LOVE my chillies!

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Organic Honey Glazed Carrots (gorgeous)
and Steamed Kale side dishes

On to the dessert. The portions of the starters and mains were LARGE! I wasn't sure I could fit any dessert in, but in the spirit of menu reviews, I decided to force down a Rich Chocolate Cake. My husband chose the Yorkshire Cheeseboard.

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Rich Chocolate Cake

Oh my, what a sweet treat! Served with a cider brandy cream to cut through the sweetness of the chocolate and a ginger snap for crunch. 

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Michael Lee's Artisan Yorkshire Cheeseboard

The cheese was supplied by Michael Lee Cheese Ltd, West Yorkshire and it was flipping fabulous! The cheeses on the board were Barncliffe Brie, Smoked English Richmond, Yorkshire Tasty, Shepherd's Purse and Swaledale. Not really a complaint because we couldn't fit them in, but more crackers would be needed for the amount of cheese that was on that board if you were sharing, although I'm sure they would have topped up the crackers if asked.

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Even the tables were decorated with flowers
cut from the hedgerow that morning

Other dishes on the menu that night included Confit of Duck Leg, Organic Pantry Marinated Vegetables served with Grilled Flat Bread & Merguez Spiced Yogurt, Chilli & Chive Gnocchi, Slow Cooked Swillington Farm Beef with Anchovy & Rosemary Potatoes & Red Wine Sauce. The desserts included Almond & Orange Pudding with Red Wine Pear & Vanilla Ice Cream, and a Chocolate & Hazelnut Fritters with Raspberry Sorbet & Soured Cream.

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If you live in the area, or are passing though, definitely give Heathcliff's a visit, I'd go back for the interesting flavours and different dishes which change daily to adapt for what is available locally. I really enjoyed the experience and hope to see it rolled out across more Marriott Hotels in the UK soon!
PS. Hollins Hall also have a golf course, a health & beauty spa, fitness & recreation facilities and of course, clean, comfy bedrooms so you can make a weekend of it!

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Disclosure: I dined as a guest of Marriott Hotels and was asked to write a review of my experiences at Heathcliff's Restaurant. All views written here are my own, honest opinions.

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This content belongs to Nic at Cherrapeno. All writing and photography copyright N Fowers © 2007-2013 unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Lazy Hostess - Book Review

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Amorous Apricots

I'll start by saying that this book is a little different from the usual cookery books I review, and I'm not sure it's one that I would have picked up in the bookshop... BUT... I love it!

Written by Babe Scott, The Lazy Hostess is a hilarious book which will turn the most domestically challenged hostess into one that will dazzle and entertain without the fuss, stress and big bucks. I hadn't heard of the author before, but Babe Scott has been described as a 'kitchen vixen' on a mission to put the flirt back into finger food. Although born in Sydney, Australia, she now lives in New York and is a media personality and writer, airing her saucy views from dating and mating, to cocktails and canapes.

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Inside view of The Lazy Hostess

You won't find any photographs of the food in the book, but there are plenty of cute, quirky illustrations (by Chuck Gonzales), providing humour and colour throughout. The first part of the book is all about planning, hosting and dressing for the party. There's a handy list of equipment to help you plan a cocktail party, and of course, some all-important cocktail recipes to get your party swinging. I really liked that each cocktail recipe has the quantities for a single serving, as well as a large pitcher or party pitcher.

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The party food is divided into four sections, Cheesy, Doughy, Meaty and Bacony, plus a few 'classic' recipes. All the recipes are fairly simple, inexpensive and use easy-to-find ingredients, and each one has a note about how far you can prepare it in advance and what you need to do to serve it. And, if you lack culinary skills or don't feel like making your own finger food, there's a cheat sheet with ideas to help you pass off those supermarket-bought platters as your own!
I made 4 recipes from the book (see photos), other recipes that caught my eye were Chocolate Bacon, Paris Stilton, Bacon Bliss, Daring Dates and Kickass Kebabs. 

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Lazy Nut Cheese Log

With the party season just around the corner, this book could be the answer to your stress-free party planning, it would certainly make a great gift for anyone with limited time and money but still enjoys entertaining with their friends. The book is meant to be a little cheeky, with the idea that you can enjoy your own party with a little advance planning - and Babe Scott even gives advice on how to get rid of those pesky guests who outstay their welcome at the end of the evening!

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Potato-Crisp Crusted Cheese Balls

Potato-Crisp Crusted Cheese Balls 
Adapted from The Lazy Hostess
Makes approximately 24

500g cream cheese, softened
1 level tablespoon onion soup mix
125g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 x 25g packet salted potato crisps

Combine the cream cheese, soup mix and Cheddar cheese in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Shape the mixture into small balls and place on a baking sheet lined with cling film or baking parchment.
Pulse the crisps in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Roll the balls in the crumbs until evenly coated.
Chill the cheese balls for at least an hour and up to a day in the fridge so they become firm before serving.

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The book can be bought from the Random House Group, Amazon, and all good bookshops.

The Lazy Hostess
by Babe Scott
£12.99 / Hardback, 243 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press
October 2013
ISBN: 9780593072646

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the cookbook from Bantam Press, all views expressed above are my own. 

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This content belongs to Nic at Cherrapeno. All writing and photography copyright N Fowers © 2007-2013 unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ritz Peanut Butter Cups

If you think peanut butter cups are a little too sweet, make your own and add a Ritz cracker! I love the sweet and salty combination.

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Ritz Peanut Butter Cups
The amounts here are just a guide, it depends upon the size of your moulds, but they need to be roughly the size of a Ritz cracker. Use either milk or dark chocolate, whichever you prefer!

200g chocolate
60g peanut butter
20g icing sugar
15g unsalted butter, softened
8 Ritz crackers

Line a muffin pan with cupcake cases. I used a silicone cupcake mould which held 8 cases.
Melt the chocolate and pour a little into each cupcake case, covering the bottom. Put into the fridge to harden.
In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, the softened butter and the icing sugar together until smooth. Pipe or spread onto the chocolate in the cases. You can use neat peanut butter if you prefer.
Pop a Ritz cracker on the top of the peanut butter and gently press down.
Top with the rest of the melted chocolate and put back into the fridge to harden.

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This content belongs to Nic at Cherrapeno. All writing and photography copyright N Fowers © 2007-2013 unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.