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.