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!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Post Festival Pasta

Yesterday I returned from my 10th, and by far the best, summer music festival I've been to: Kendal Calling 2011. I had a fantastically hilarious time with this bunch of reprobates (visor clad boy not included):

We drank copious amounts of cider, dressed as 'Beasts and Machines', watched and bounced around to lots of amazing bands, met a wonderful rainbow of colourful characters, and laughed more than I ever thought possible.

The food that was available was some of the best I've seen at a festival. Just about every cuisine was catered for including Mediterranean, Indonesian, Japanese, Tibetan and good old British grub. However, I'd decided to cook my own food to save money and spent a lot of time crouched over my trusty stove creating culinary atrocities including chili con carne with a powdered sweet potato concoction and a chicken tikka risotto. It seemed a good idea at the time. I'm hopefully returning next year and will probably buy arena food as I was well jeal of my mates teatime exploits and the prices weren't too unreasonable.

Anyway, on returning home from the festival on Monday afternoon I collapsed on the couch awaiting on 170 photos to appear on Facebook (remove tag, remove tag, remove tag), and for my mum to get home and feed and fuss over me. So imagine the horror of my exhausted, filthy and confused self when she turned up and said she had shopping and errands to do and I had to cook the tea! I very nearly cried.

After being presented with some leftover lamb in gravy to use up, and spending a ridiculously long time both mentally and physically preparing (finely chopping is literally impossible with a 4 day hangover) this is what I served up:

Ingredients (served 5, 3 for tea and 2 for dinner the next day):

3 large handfuls macaroni pasta (that's how I measure mine anyway, but just enough for whoever you're wining and dining)
2 tins chopped tomatoes
Leftover roast lamb and gravy (or brown some cubed lamb, works fine without the gravy)
1/2 a courgette
1 large white onion
2 peppers of different colours
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil for frying
Crème fraîche to taste

1. Fry the courgette, onion, peppers and garlic in a little olive oil until softened.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes and lamb. Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. While this is simmering cook the macaroni according to the  packet instructions.

4. Add the pasta to the sauce and serve with a dollop of  crème fraîche if desired. I desire very much!
Perfect post festival fodder! Comforting, meaty and easy to rustle up. What are your festival food experiences? Any amazing stalls you've come across? And what would be your ideal meal to eat on your return?