Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Midweek Two Courser; Crispy Greek Pie, Leek and Bacon Risotto

Ohhh Nativity Play! I love and hate you in equal amounts! It was sadly/happily my classes last performance of theirs this week, so now we can start enjoying Christmas properly! Crafts galore! However, even though I've been incredibly busy I managed to cook a two course meal on a week night last week (unheard of!). These recipes were really quick and simple, meaning I got home at 5pm and had the first course on the table for 6pm, with the main following not long after. Give 'em a whirl!

For starters I tried a recipe for crispy Greek pie, found on the awardwinning weight loss blog 'Where Are My Knees'. Don't let the idea of a 'low fat' recipe but you off; this pie packs a tasty punch while being really quick and easy to put together. Have a little look at the recipe and give it a go. It's basically just mix together the filling of feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, spinach and egg, wrap in filo pastry and bake for 30mins.

The family loved it and it was just right for a starter; a creamy and crunchy Spanakopita with the added kick of sundried tomatoes giving it a tangy lift.

As we served the starter I could put the main course in as we were making Oven-baked leek & bacon risotto. I've only attempted risotto once before and it was a claggy disaster, so I was very dubious about this too good to be true sounding dish. "Yeaaaa don't worry about all that tiresome stirring and stock adding malarky! Just wack it int oven!" Ah well I gave it a whirl...

Olive oil
6 rashers bacon, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
250g risotto rice
700ml hot chicken stock
175g frozen peas
3 tbsp soft cheese
Zest 1 lemon (oops, just realised in all the oven baked excitement I forgot to add this!)

1. Heat oven to 200C. Splash olive oil into an ovenproof casserole dish. Add bacon and fry for 2 mins. Then add the leeks for 4-5 mins.

2. pour in the rice for 1 min more. Pour over stock. Cover and place in the oven for 20 mins, stirring halfway. Worry throughout.

3. When rice is just tender and all liquid is absorbed, remove from oven and stir in peas. Place back in oven for 2 mins more. Remove and stir in cheese. Add zest (if you've remembered) and season.
Much to my surprise, this really, really worked! It wasn't quite as lovely and oozy as a regular risotto; but was tasty and not claggy at all. Dead, dead easy too, especially if you have a few courses to think about.

The peas, leeks and bacons collided with an exciting
overall flavour, that would only have been slightly improved by a bit of garlic. I served it up as a side to some fatty, medium rare lamb chops. All in all a really scrummy tea time treat.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I Like Mine With Smoked Salmon... my answer to the age old breakfast conundrum.

A bit of a different post today looking at the most important meal of the day. However, I often find that when I give this meal the focus and attention it deserves, it inevitably turns into dinner anyway. I definitely sign up for the American way of stretching breakfast out for a good hour or so. Therefore, the past couple of times I've found myself in Liverpool early on; I have visited a wonderful little place called 'Moose Coffee' that I really want to recommend to you as a unique breakfast experience.

According to their website, Moose Coffee want to 'capture the American and Canadian attitude to the best meal of the day' with their short order menu consisting mostly of eggs cooked various ways with traditional American inspired accompaniments. Their equivalent to a 'big breakfast' is based around a delicious sounding potato hash with onion, garlic and dijon mustard. Then there's poached and scrambled eggs served classically and with innovative twists.

The decor feels as though you've wandered into a cult 70's film; beige leather, old fashioned till, dark wood furniture, high ceilings and a balcony with seats overlooking diners below. The steamed up windows, jangle of the till and the gentle hum of relaxed chatter make for a breakfast atmosphere ideal for sitting back and soaking up.

On my first visit I went for the 'Smoked Moose'. They generously scramble 4 eggs which are golden and creamy. The smoked salmon was served in thick and tasty, velvety strips, and the brown toast was of good quality. The ingrediants really taste worthy of a lot more than the reasonable prices they are sold at.

The next time I went I was hoping for the eggs florentine I'd seen on the specials board, but it had been replaced by an exciting sounding affair involing peppers and onions and suchlike. Regardless, it seemed like too much for me so I ordered the New Hampshire Moose. For my personal taste, the egg was poached just right. A little bit of runnyness but overall quite firm. It wasn't hard, by any stretch of the imagination, but for some it may have been considered a little overdone. The hollandaise was rich and perfectly portioned; finishing off a luxurious dish at excellent value. (For this meal, a couple of rounds of toast, and two drinks we spent £11.80)

I'm so glad this cafe is now in my life. It's so different to anything I'm used to and I enjoyed the whole attitude they have to breakfast. It's busy and bustling with people from all walks of life, but still manages a chilled out atmosphere. Nothing is too much trouble for the chirpy staff, and the food is great value for money. I can't wait to try a few more things on the menu, including the American style club sandwiches, and the sweeter desserty breakfasts they have on offer.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Random Recipes does No Croutons Required: Spiced Parsnip Soup

I've been following the

The basic idea is to choose a recipe book, turn to a page and random, and you MUST make this recipe. Not quite sure what the consequences are for cheaters, but I assume they are dire! I excitedly turned to my 'New Soup Bible' which I used in my first ever blog post over a year ago! Bless. I had my fingers crossed for a warming thick Autumnal soup when I flicked through and randomly opened it on page 62: Spiced Parsnip Soup with Naan Croutons. Jackpot! And I didn't even cheat!

I love parsnips and teaming them with my favourite herb, cumin, was really tempting! I'd probably make a parsnip soup on any old weekend without a fuss, but what a fantastic idea to also add the traditional sides and condiments of a curry. I had a lot of the ingredients to hand, so after a quick scurry to the shops for some parsnips and naan bread I was raring to go. Here's the recipe as it was in the cookbook.

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 small green chilli, seeded and finely chopped 
1 tbsp grated ginger
5 large parsnips, diced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp mango chutney
1.2 litres water
juice of 1 lime
salt and ground black pepper
Natural yoghurt and mango chutney, to serve
Fresh coriander to serve
For the croutons:
Olive oil
1 large naan
Sesame seeds

1. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the onion has softened. Add the parsnips and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds, coriander and turmeric and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2. Add the chutney and the water. Season well and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the parsnips are soft.
3. Cool the soup slightly, then blend until smooth. Stir in the lime juice. (This is where I had to add some extra boiling water as the soup was far too gloopy for my taste, as can be seen in the picture)
4. For the croutons dice the naan, heat the oil in a frying pan and cook until golden all over. Remove from the heat and drain off any excess oil. Add the sesame seeds and return to the heat for 30 seconds, until the seeds are golden.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls. Add a little yogurt and top with mango chutney and naan croutons.

I even presented it all pretty while I'm entering it into a challenge (dead proud ont sly!). I did have a couple of minor disasters throughout the cooking. It was ridiculously gloopy when I blended it, (hard to avoid with parsnip), so I had to add quite a lot of boiling water to loosen it up a bit. I also forgot to add the spices at the correct time! Only realising once the soup was blended and it wasn't the wonderful deep orange colour the book had promised =( I quickly added them in and continued cooking the soup; the colour did become a lot more pleasant but not quite the wonderful Autumn leafy hue I was after.

The soup itself wasn't overly exciting but hit the spot. I went a bit mad with the cumin which although complimented the parsnips really well, did mean the soup didn't really taste of much else. However, what really made this dish was the various toppings; what a revelation! The croutons were tasty little morsels of crunch, the yoghurt added a contrasting creamy taste to the deep earthy spice of the cumin, and the mango chutney really lifted the whole thing to a new level. I'm not usually a massive fan of the stuff and rarely choose it, but its tangy flavour went really well here and I found myself adding a couple more dollops when I ran out!

I really enjoyed this challenge; having the dilemma of recipe choosing taken away from me is something I'd like to do more often and will hopefully lead to some exciting new taste experiences that I wouldn't usually do. I think I've started off very safe here but the result was an enjoyable soup that I'd probably make myself, with some finishing touches that transformed it into a meal that I'd even consider swapping my weekly (bi-weekly? tri-weekly??) curry for!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Friends With Benefits: The Rufford Arms

My sister enjoying her Thai chicken with rice
I've been umming and ahhing over whether or not to post a review of this place, as I know some of the kitchen staff. But, since dining there the other week, I can't stop thinking about the meal as it was one of the best I've had in a long time. On the way to the restaurant, I said to my sister that I wouldn't be blogging about it unless it was a fantastic meal, and it was so here I am. I've also checked other online reviews and they are in agreement, so feel free to check those too before relying solely on my recommendations.

The Rufford Arms is a modern hotel set in rural Lancashire countryside. However, I'd say the restaurant is the focal point, and not merely an add on for business types and working lunches, as you often get with these handily located hotels.

We visited on a rainy Thursday evening at around 6pm and were seated straight away. It was rather quiet in the dining area and as some of the tables are quite close together we did feel a little as thought you could hear other people's conversations which I find a little uncomfortable. Yet as the night went on and the restaurant busied up, the atmosphere improved and we felt a lot more relaxed.

To start, I ordered the Goosnargh duck confit with lentils. The duck was cooked perfectly; slightly pink and juicy but not at all greasy with its tasty crisp skin. The lentils were curried and had a wonderful deep earthy taste that didn't overwhelm the duck meat. It was just the right amount and I ate every single scrap of this excellent starter.

I chose the hake fillet for my main course and was delighted with the generous fleshy cut of fresh fish I was presented with. It sat on a bed of fettecine pasta in creamy white wine sauce. The sauce was rich but not sickly or too filling and it offset the light fish beautifully. The mussels and prawns were just the right subtle addition to finish off this well put together dish.

The waiting staff were really friendly and seemed to have a genuine interest and love for the food; asking questions and listening to our opinions. They were chatty and polite and not in the least bit overbearing. I felt they really earned their tips.

The menu changes often, and when we visited they were offering 25% off their a la carte menu, meaning our bill was reduced to £37 which was fantastic value for the soft drinks and two top quality starters and mains we had eaten. They use locally sourced products and seem passionate about what they do. I can't wait to return and try more of their exciting dishes, and I'd definitley recommend you do too.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Chintz upon Chintz: Cakey Gifts

I've been thoroughly enjoying my new teaching post in a Reception class, and have been really well supported and welcomed into the school. I therefore decided to do something special for my colleagues birthday. She's the teacher in the other Reception class and has helped me out no end in this settling in phase for both the children and myself. So, her birthday rolled around last week and upon visiting Bygone Times I saw a beautiful Royal Albert Cake stand. I thought of my colleague and her well-known love of cakes and decided to buy it and fill it with homemade cakes for her and her grandchildren to share.

I used the basic recipe from my old Be-Ro book, that I used for my sinful chocolate cake in one of my first posts. I was feeling the pressure as it was a gift and I'm not the most experienced baker, but it was a real success.


For the chocolate cakes:
3oz self raising flour
1oz cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
4oz caster sugar
4oz butter
2 eggs
For the chocolate buttercream:
Icing sugar
Cocoa powder

For the vanilla cakes:
4oz self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Couple of drops vanilla essence
4oz caster sugar
4oz butter
2 eggs
For the plain buttercream:
Icing sugar

1) In two seperate bowls (one for vanilla and one for chocolate) beat the caster sugar and butter together until smooth. The more you beat it, the lighter the cakes will be.

2) Mix the flour and baking powder and add a quarter of this to each of the creamed butter and sugar mixtures, mixing as you go along. Also add the cocoa to the chocolate bowl.  Add an egg and beat until combined. Add another egg then rest of the flour mixture bit by bit and continue beating to achieve a light and airy texture.
3) Split this between paper cake cases in a baking tray.

4) Place in the oven for about 20mins at 160°. This does depend on your oven, so keep looking inside to see whether it’s well risen. When it’s done it should spring back up when pressed, you can check this but try not to do it too often throughout cooking as the cakes will sink or go hard. 

5) Allow the cakes to cool for 10mins whilst still in the trays.  

6) While the cakes are cooling you can make the buttercream by mixing softened butter, icing sugar and cocoa (leave out the cocoa to make the plain buttercream)

7) To make the butterfly cakes, use a spoon to scoop out a thin circlular layer in the middle of the cake. Fill with buttercream, cut the circle you cut out in half and stick the halves on the top as butterfly 'wings'. Sprinkle some icing sugar on the top for a professional look!

8) For the iced ones I made some icing using icing sugar, water and food colouring.

I was so pleased with how the cakes turned out and my friend was ecstatic with her special gift. She can play tea parties with her grandkids and they apparently loved the cakes. I'd love to serve these up at some sort of vintage tea party wearing a lovely summer dress #chintzoverload

Monday, 10 October 2011

Crowdpleasers; Greek Style Chicken

Well don't know about you but September was a bit of a write-off for me! My new job has taken up most of my time and was really overwhelming. Feeling rubbish because of a horrible cold I just couldn't shake didn't help. We also had to say goodbye to my wonderful Grandad, Brian Chapman, which was a sad time but it's been good to have lots of family get togethers.

Anyway, October is here and I'm feeling so much more like myself. Feel really positive about work and suddenly have gone all productive; new systems in place, routines sorted and bunting all over the show. I'm not even joking about the bunting. Love teaching, me. And so I'm back to blogging with a positive attitude and the perfect crowd pleasing dish.

If you're ever stuck for what to cook for guests with lots of different tastes I would truly recommend this dish (I may even start a crowdpleasers feature, who knows!). It's an old failsafe for me and everyone who's ate it has loved it. However it's still an exciting recipe, not just boring pub food style fodder.

Stuffing chicken breasts is harrrd
I stumbled across the original recipe in the summer of 2009 when I came home from a holiday in Kardamena. I'd absolutely fallen in love with the Greek people, food, atmosphere and culture. I immediately began searching for Greek recipes and restaurants, determined to recreate the exciting meze's, salads, stews and signature dishes I had experienced. My finding's included Dimitri's Taverna in Manchester, which I must revisit before I post on it as I haven't been for a while (and the prices have gone up quite a bit since tsk tsk), many Greek cookbooks, websites and this fantastic dish.

I won't write out the instructions as they're done perfectly on the original website by Eleni from Taverna Agni. I do insist you take a look and have a go if you fancy it! (I add some chopped button mushrooms to the sauce too for a bit of extra veg and additional texture)

Instead here are my pictures along with the recipe for my starter of Stuffed Mushrooms (serves 4).

4 x portobello mushrooms (1 each, or double the recipe for 2 each)
Olive oil
100g rindless streaky bacon, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
75g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
Black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley

1. Roughly chop the mushroom stems; rinse and drain the mushroom caps.
2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and stir fry the bacon for 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, mushroom stems and garlic. Cook for a further 3-4 mins. Remove from the heat.
3. Stir in the breadcrumbs, parsley and beaten egg into the mushroom mixture. Add plenty of pepper. Leave to cool.
4. Place the mushroom caps on an oiled baking tray. Fill with the mushroom mixture.
5. Bake at 220°C for 15-20 mins or until tender and lightly browned.

Bless it, not the prettiest looking thing, but it hit the spot.

I served the Greek stuffed chicken with some sauteed sweet potato for me and mother dear. For my sister (who was being a fusspot) I made my creamy new potatoes, but with oregano instead of mint. It's a colourful tasty dish that really takes me back to the Greek taverna's. Guaranteed Crowdpleasers*

*Please note: I take no responsibility for the overall pleasure levels of your crowds.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Art of Complaining; Noel Chadwick's 1817, Standish

I'd best start this post off by saying I absolutely love Noel Chadwick's. For those who don't know; Chadwicks Ltd are a family business that have been practising as butchers in Standish since 1761. Wonderful stuff, their apparently excessive approach to policing car parking spaces aside. In addition to the abattoir, the emporium compromises a large shop with meat and delicatessen counters. They also sell beverages, seafood and special ranges of locally produced products such as Fiddler's Lancashire crisps (thoroughly recommended! Thick, tasty and exciting; check out my rubber duck shaped one!) I could spend forever simply gazing at the different cuts of meat and almost get annoyed when their attentive staff offer their services, can't they see I'm simply drooling!? There's also a cafe called 1817 in the conservatory at the front, perfectly placed for people watching as you enjoy the fresh produce from next door.

I've visited 1817 numerous times and my only negative has been the odd opening times. They often close pretty early; and are rarely seen with the lights on past 7.30pm, even on Saturdays. The food and service has always been fantastic, with the menu changing regularly and throwing up highlights such as their Cooked Breakfast Salad, mouthwatering Minted Lamb Cutlets, and the best Beer Battered Prawns I have ever tasted.

However, on my last visit I had a real shock with my meal. It was something that I'm sure a lot of people have come across and, like me, aren't quite sure how to handle it. I really didn't like my meal. It was cooked correctly and all the components stated on the menu were present; it was just a truly unpleasant meal. I had ordered the Steak and Mushroom penne pasta in a brandy and cream sauce, and expected something similar to their beef stroganoff which I'd enjoyed on a previous visit. Here is what I received:

I can't complain about the portion size and the amount of excellent quality beef they provided. However the sauce was like nothing I have ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the texture of water. It completely ran off the pasta, wasn't appetising at all and was such a let down to the other ingredients. The dish ended up becoming a real struggle to get through. I even asked for a spoon so that I could actually sample the sauce and, while tasting vaguely of brandy, it had no depth of flavour. In the end I gave up and left this pool; not unlike a sorry looking puddle with some morsels of disappointed beef floating around in it.
The point of this blog post is for me to question 'What would you do in this situation?'. Am I entitled to complain about a meal that I simply do not want to eat? I've previously sent steaks back for being overcooked as that can quite clearly be seen; it's not too subjective to personal opinion. However, I'm almost inclined to say this dish wasn't cooked correctly, surely the sauce should have been reduced quite substantially? I see this meal on the menu quite a lot and can't believe it would be so popular if this is how it is served. I was so jealous of my sister's hot beef and onion sandwich with crisp salad and creamy coleslaw, and would have been perfectly happy with a replacement meal. I just hate being so disappointed when spending my hard earned cash on dining out.

My big worry is that nothing would come of my complaint. Having worked as a waitress I often found that people would make complaints such as this at the end of the meal when there was nothing that could be done. I would let the chefs know and they'd send their apologies and that was that.

I must stress that having visited this restaurant in the region of 20 times, this is the one and only time I have had a negative experience, and I wouldn't let this review put you off visiting. Have you ever been in a similar situation and complained? Did you get your meal replaced? Or would you just grin and bear it, and perhaps write a disparaging review on your blog ;) Let me know and maybe I'll be more prepared to handle this kind of situation should it arise in future!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Miller Howe Cafe, Grasmere

Sincere apologies for the Leeds Festival shaped hole in my blogging activities!  However I'm back now and raring to go. I started at my new teaching post in a Reception class today, but hoping to still fit in lots of cooking, eating and blogging or I'll go insane!

In last Friday's post I told you about the day out I had with my Mum and sister in Grasmere. As promised, here is my review on the dinner we had that day. We were torn between 'Miller Howe Café' and 'Greens' which are on opposite sides of the village square. We plumped for the former as there was room to eat outside and the menu was a little more varied. 'Greens' is a favourite with my Mum, however, and she heartily recommends it if you're visiting.
We ordered drinks first from an extensive collection of fresh fruit juices, I went for homemade lemonade and was very pleased with this monster glass. Usually I find that if you order a fruit juice they fob you off with a weeny bottle and an even weenier glass, but this was perfect. I found the colour a little odd and at first thought I'd been given orange juice instead, but the taste was wonderfully sweet and lemony. Very refreshing.

We had a bit of a nightmare when it came to ordering; there are just so many dishes! Lot's of ingredients and combination that you wouldn't usually find on your average lunch menu, meant that I didn't want to miss out and found deciding very difficult! One thing I did notice though, is the complete lack of chips on the menu. Not being a chip lover myself I didn't mind at all but I did find this a little different and it was actually very noticeable. Anyway, after a long long process of shortlisting and elimination, I decided to go for the toasted club sandwich, on triple decker toast.

I placed our orders at the till with the very polite and friendly waiter, who seemed to really make the effort to make natural conversation with each customer, which was appreciated. The service was also very fast considering the vast menu and small kitchen they appeared to be working in. A few minutes later I got my sandwich. It had been advertised as being served with a trio of salads which I thought were fantastic. Much better than your usual pre bagged wilted affair! I'm not sure where one salad ended and the next begun but the highlight was the creamy pasta salad that included ham and some kind of beans. The rest was really crunchy and full of flavour; top marks for a side dish!

The club sandwich involved bacon, lettuce, tomato and mushrooms; no complaints there. Fresh fantastic ingredients. However the chicken and egg that were promised came in the form of chicken mayonnaise and egg mayonnaise. I felt this was okay, but it I'd have much preferred it without, as it all became a bit soggy. Slightly thicker bread would have probably helped. These are only teeny complaints because overall this meal was a real treat, and the little touches were superb.
Also worth a mention were the other meals in our trio. My mum ordered the brie, bacon and mushroom jacket potato which was piled high with filling and got rave reviews. My sister ordered their homemade sausage roll with jacket potato and beans; it wasn't very photogenic bless it but made up for it in taste. There was no big gap of air between the sausage and the pastry, a rarity that went down very well!

All in all; good quality food that you can tell a lot of effort has gone into, a huge menu full of unusual lunches, friendly service and a lovely eating environment whether outdoors or in. We'll definitely be returning.

Friday, 19 August 2011

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud - A Day in the Lake District

I went to the Lake District today with my Mum and sister. I lovely day was had so I thought I'd share some pictures with you. Some food related, some not, and I'm going to do another post on the dinner we had there as well.

There's so many lovely things to see and do in the Lakes, and it's only a 90 minute drive. We usually go for the big walks and scenery, but today we decided to go for a little touristy type trip to Grasmere. First stop was St. Oswald's Church, which is where William Wordsworth is buried, to see the Christmas present we bought our parents last year. It's their favourite place so we got them a stone with their names engraved, which is part of the path in the daffodil garden.

We had a look round the shops and garden centres. I bought this ace bag and drooled over recipe books, cake stands, patchwork and trinkets galore.

This jigsaw shop was pretty amazing. I'm not exactly a puzzle fangirl but, bloomin' eck, I didn't know there were that many in the world! I bought one for my Grandma and spent a good ten minutes finding the big man in the stripes on a huge 'Where's Wally?' one (he was on the saloon balcony behind some cowboys).

Dinner was enjoyed al fresco at 'Miller Howe Café', which I shall be postin on as soon as (fantastic by the way). Next on the agenda were some desserty treats from the village. First up, English Lakes Ice Cream; my friends had raved about their stall at Kendal Calling. I went for Thunder and Lightening; Vanilla, Chocolate and Cinder Toffee. Mmmmmm! Sugary, crunchy heaven. After inhaling several scoops, my mum then marched us off to Sarah Nelson's famous gingerbread shop - oh so quaint. I'm not particularly fond of the stuff but if you're a fan, apparently it's a must.

On the way home we stopped at Low Sizergh Barn and I'm so glad we did. The displays of food were so tempting and colourful; fresh fruit and veg, a massive range of exciting meats, soups and sauces, cheeses galore, the usual jamschutneysetc, and a lovely little olive bar. I wish I could have spent far longer there and will definitely be returning soon. This time I just went for some little gem lettuce and avocado, hoping for success after seeing this curious sign! Err 'scuse ME, Jamie Oliver TOLD me to squeeze them!

All in all an excellent day. Do you have any preferred Lakes locations? Any hidden gems you can tell us about?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Avocadon't? - Fruity Musings and a New Tea Room

Avocado is something that I've never really had but always fancied. I knew I'd love its creamy texture and the recipes I've seen it in always use ingrediants that really appeal to me; prawns, fresh salsa's, interesting salads, scallops. I often saw it used on the wonderful bitchin' camero blog along with unfamiliar American ingrediants, but then I found a recipe that used it in a sandwich and thought I'd give that a try.

It didn't go too well. I chucked a couple of avocados in my mum's tesco trolley and the next day cut one open for a suppertime snack. I was so disappointed! The insides were bruised and brown, and one half had to be thrown in the bin after my attempts to cut it resulted in an unappetizing mush. I managed to slice the other half and threw it on a sandwich with mayonnaise, turkey and some nice fresh tomatoes, but it just wasn't what I expected. The texture was very slimy and it didn't add much to the sandwich in the way of taste.

I had to throw the other fruit in the bin as I knew it wouldn't keep, and since this experiment I've bought another one from Morrisons and had the same issues. Both times I'd chosen fruit that was well within its sell by date, they just always seem to be terribly overripe.

After these two disasters I'd all but given up on avocados and stopped seeking out recipes that I'd never be able to do justice to. Until one glorious Saturday when I discovered a little gem of a tea room in the centre of Ormskirk. I'm so pleased with this find and I can find nothing about it online so you heard it here first people; get to twenty five's at the bottom of Aughton Street.

(This gloomy picture was taken when I walked past today, and it was all rainy.)

Until very recently it used to be a clothes shop called Fever, now it's a little cafe with comfy couches, outside seating, nice nick-nacks, and a small but perfectly formed menu. There's breakfast items available, exciting butties and a couple of small hot meals. They also do high teas on the little stands with selections of cakes and sandwiches, oh how I wish I drank tea! I decided to try the prawn, avocado and marie rose on brown bread, and was presented with this whopper of a sarnie:

It was dead DEAD yummy. The filling was plentiful and very tasty, although it was quite a challenge to eat because of the impressive doorstop bread. The salad ingredients weren't very imaginative but was dressed in balsamic, which complimented the fresh nature of the sandwich beautifully. And the avocado! It was creamy but still had a bite to it, which was definitley missing in the ones I'd bought. I really recommend this place as the prices are low and you get value for money in a relaxed atmosphere. They also sell cordials, teas, chutneys and other little treats. I bought a bottle of traditional lemonade for my mum which was gorgeous.

So, where am I going wrong? Clearly fresh tasty avocados are available somewhere. Is it because I'm buying them from a supermarket? Would I have more luck at a market? Is there a better time of year to buy them? Where do you source your lovely fresh avocados? And do you have any recipes you'd like to share? Feel free to comment with links and ideas!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

To Carve or Not to Carve? - Fiveways, Ormskirk

Let's face it the majority of carveries are a bit pants really aren't they, bless 'em. Ridiculously low prices, dry meat and unimaginative vegetables are often par for the course. That's why I was very apprehensive when Gav (the fella) first suggested we eat at The Fiveways in Ormskirk as they did a good carvery. 'A good carvery?' I echoed. But I gave it a go and I'm so glad I did.

The main thing you notice about this place is their dedication to providing food that has been assured to Red Tractor Standards, whose logo can be found scattered all over their menu. This indicates the ingredients have come from farms with high standards of food safety, hygiene, animal welfare and environmental protection. Good to know.

The first time I went I had the carvery and was really impressed. The meat (I chose beef) was juicy and tasty, there was a selection of different types of potatoes, and the Yorkshire puddings were as big as my head. The vegetables aren't the usual carvery fare either, the carrots are sweet and look as though they've just been pulled out the ground, there's also rare treats such as roast parsnips and creamed leeks on offer. The next two times I visited I enjoyed the 'Pie of the Day'. Yes, they have a 'Pie of the Day'; a sure fire way to win over this Wigan lass. I think this is an excellent way to use up the carvery ingredients that, in many other establishments, would have been left on the hot plate until rendered inedible. With this option you can still choose from the carvery vegetables to accompany your pastry topped treat. I didn't take pictures of the meals from these visits, I'm afraid. Carvery mentality took hold and my mountains of mash and leeks did not make for pleasant viewing. Oh the shame.

On my birthday Gav and I decided to share this restaurant with my mum, sister and her fella. I veered away from the carvery fun and chose from the main menu.

I went for the 'Ginger, garlic and coconut tempura battered black tiger prawns' to start. They were served in a mini fryer basket which I liked, although some may view it as a bit gimmicky. The prawns were nice and big, in a light tasty batter, although I didn't really detect the ginger and coconut that was advertised. I'm not very keen on soy sauce dips as it's too strong a taste for me, but a little bit of it was nice. I also asked for some garlic dip which was brought over without a fuss and was scrummy. There was a nondescript salad accompaniment that isn't really worth mentioning and was the only real downfall of the dish.

For my main I ordered the 'Spinach, butternut squash and goats cheese lasagne'. It's very unusual of me to order something vegetarian but the combination of spinach and butternut squash is something I often really enjoy in a curry and I felt the strong goats cheese would make up for the lack of meat. I was right and the cheese was very tasty, the lasagne filling was sweet and tomatoey but a little under seasoned. The salad was again okay, but the garlic bread was chewy and not very garlicky!

All in all an average meal with some real highlights. It wont put me off ordering from the main menu again as I've seen some offerings that look really exciting, and I know they've sourced the ingredients to back it up. I can also unreservedly recommend the carvery and pies on offer, and I've also visited the pub side of the building which offers 3D TV (whatever next!) and drinks in a pleasant ambiance.

Please note: ignore the terrible online reviews as they're from a couple of years ago before the Fiveways was taken over. It used to be a Wacky Warehouse style place, it would seem!