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Restaurant Review – The Milk Churn

A couple of weekends ago, we fancied trying a new place for lunch so I booked us a table at this Hall and Woodhouse pub. Part of the Badger Brewery chain, Ian loves their ales and, although their menu isn’t exactly fine dining, it offers really good pub grub.

I can’t say the pub itself is in the nicest setting but The Milk Churn is housed in a gorgeous building which has a converted barn feel to it.

We started off with a couple of their ales – I love ‘Golden Glory’ which is a light ale with a peach flavour and reminds me of summer holidays camping in Dorset!

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For my lunch, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Burger which was coated in Frank’s hot wing sauce and served with a blue cheese mayo. This reminded me so much of the chicken wings we enjoyed in America and although the bun fell apart a bit, the chips were really good!

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Ian opted for a Fish Dog which is basically a hot dog with beer-battered cod goujons in place of a sausage, with mushy peas and tartare sauce. It may sound a bit strange but it really worked and reminded me of a slightly fancier fish-finger sandwich (one of my favourite comfort-food lunches!)

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We also shared some hot wings which were a little on the small and dry side for me.

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I always save some room for a pudding and The Milk Churn offer ‘mini puds’ which I think is a great idea if you are torn between two desserts! I ordered a mini toffee cheesecake and a mini chocolate pot.

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The cheesecake was OK but the ratio between the toffee sauce, biscuit and cream were a little off. My favourite by far was the chocolate pot which had a rich dark chocolate mousse topped with vanilla panna cotta. This was a perfect combination and I could have eaten two or three of them!

We had a lovely lunch here at The Milk Churn. I probably wouldn’t come back here for an evening meal as it has a bit of a ‘chain’ feel to it and I much prefer a local, country pub but it was a great lunch venue and we are big fans of the ales served here.

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Restaurant Review – A Midweek Treat at the Muddy Duck

It feels slightly strange blogging about our village pub as we are up there on a frequent basis (maybe a little too frequent!) but we had such a good meal recently, I felt it merited a post. Rather than trying somewhere new, Ian and I decided to wander up to our local for a midweek dinner.

I started with an Aperol Spritz cocktail which looked like a glass of Iron-Bru but this Italian aperitif has a lovely bitter-sweet taste and is apparently rather popular with the Hackney hipsters.

For my starter, I went for a salad which included two of my favourite ingredients: beetroot and goats cheese. Containing golden yellow and deep purple beetroot, which had been both pickled and roasted, this salad had a rich sweetness from the beets matched by the sharpness of the goats cheese, some of which had been whipped with lemon to add another texture and flavour. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I think the only thing missing was a crunch of some nuts or crispy bread.

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Ian had a twist on ham, pea and mint in the form of this rustic ham terrine, served with a pea puree, mint and griddled new potatoes.  This was a hearty little starter and I was glad we opted to share them!

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For my main, I went for another veggie option in the form of courgette arancini. Arancini, for those of you who are yet to discover this Italian delight, are little deep fried balls of risotto and one of those things I have to order when I see it on a menu! These ones were courgette arancini, with a cheesy, rich filling and served with marinated mozzarella, griddled vegetables and courgette and radish ribbons. The combination of these ingredients were spot on and I have my own take on these rice balls coming soon!

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Ian went for the lamb served two ways but I have to admit I was enjoying my own dinner so much (and trying to pick apart the recipe so I could cook it myself at home!) that I don’t think I even tried any!

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Ordering two veggie courses left me with some room for pudding and I could not resist the sticky toffee pudding, served with honeycomb and clotted cream ice-cream. This was a lovely end to the evening and no doubt we will be back soon x

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Restaurant Review – Taplow House Hotel

It feels like I haven’t done a good restaurant review for ages! I think that’s probably because we keep eating at places I have already reviewed or just places that don’t lend themselves to a good blog post.

Anyway, today I wanted to share the amazing meal Ian and I enjoyed at Taplow House Hotel when we stayed there recently. We had a three course meal included in our hotel stay which I always like as it means you don’t have to have that argument about who will be the designated driver!

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We started with a good bottle of Merlot while we perused the menu. There were 4 or 5 options for starter, main and dessert which were a nice variety of meat, fish and veggie dishes. The dining room was beautifully decorated but I have to say there wasn’t much atmosphere…maybe that was simply because it was a Wednesday evening though.

I am going to get my other niggle out the way now because I really couldn’t find fault with the food. The night we ate at the Taplow House Hotel, there was a large party in the other room which meant the service in the restaurant suffered a bit. We actually had to wait for almost an hour for our starters which normally would really annoy me but because we were ‘on holiday’ I didn’t mind too much as we were enjoying our wine and conversation.

Onto our (much anticipated!) starters…

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I had a dish of lightly whipped goats cheese which came with salt baked and pickled beetroot, green apple, sesame seed sponge, blackberries and leaves. The pairing of goats cheese and beetroot is a favourite of mine and this was one of those perfectly balanced dishes with a lovely variety of flavours and textures.

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Ian had the grilled mackerel (which were smoked in-house) which came with avocado, celeriac remoulade, mouli, pickled mustard seeds and shiso cress. Again, this was a well-balanced dish with the rich fish matched well against the accompaniments.

I think you can usually judge how good a restaurant is after you’ve had the starters and I have to say we were both really impressed with what we had had so far.

For my main, I really fancied fish so ordered the fillet of cod. This was a huge portion (not complaining!) and it just flaked away perfectly. It was served with artichokes, cockles, mini turnips, squid ink gnocchi and a smoked herring roe butter sauce. Whilst it did look a bit messy on the plate, this dish was incredible! The rich sauce brought everything together and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

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Ian opted for the lamb which again looked a bit messy on the plate but more than delivered on taste. There was a braised neck of lamb fillet and loin as well as sweetbreads served with pearl barley, charred baby leeks, celeriac and a lovely rosemary gravy.

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Onto pudding now and I had the white chocolate cheesecake which turned out to be a delightful deconstructed version and one of my favourite dishes of the night. The filling part of the cheesecake part was one of the balls sat atop the biscuit crumbs, the other being a rich vanilla ice cream. Surrounding the rest of the plate was a combination of chocolate ganache, shards of milk chocolate, hazelnuts, cocoa nib sherbet and cocoa marshmallows. It was truly delicious and every mouthful was different.

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Ian doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do so opted for the cheeseboard which had a nice variety of local cheeses, crackers and a chutney.

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If this hotel was nearby, I would be back to this restaurant in a flash. Although the atmosphere and service left a bit to be desired, I absolutely loved the food here and that would be enough to tempt me back. x

Recipe – Cola Cupcakes

Happy weekend! It is a rather dull and grey Saturday here but I forced myself to go for a run and was really pleased to see I have hit the half stone mark on my New Year weight loss! I keep seeing the saying about summer bikini bodies being made in winter and I guess it’s true although it’s so tough to pull on your running shoes when it’s cold and windy outside.

In a complete about-turn, I am going to talk cupcakes now! I only made a small batch of these again and have been rationing myself to half a cake per day so although I am eating much healthier at the moment, I don’t feel completely denied of all treats.

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These have that lovely sweet, almost lemony cola flavour and I put this in both the cake and the icing to get a double hit of flavour…and of course, I just had to decorate them with some cola bottles too!

Ingredients (for 8 cupcakes)

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For the cakes

40g of butter or margarine, at room temperature

140g of caster sugar

120g of plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of cola syrup/ flavouring

140ml of milk

1 egg

For the icing

125g of icing sugar

40g of butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon of cola flavouring

15ml of milk

Cola bottles for decoration

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4 and line your muffin tray with cupcake cases
  • I used my Kitchen Aid for the mixing but it can obviously be done by hand too! Whisk together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined

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  • In a separate jug, mix the cola flavouring, milk and egg then gradually add this to the dry ingredients in the mixer until smooth

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  • Pour the batter into the cupcake cases (about half to two-thirds full) and then pop them in the oven

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  • Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked throughout

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  • Allow to cool while you make the frosting

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  • Whisk together the icing sugar and butter
  • In a separate jug or cup, mix the cola flavouring and milk then add it to the icing until it is light and fluffy
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled, spread the icing on top with a knife or teaspoon
  • Top with the cola bottles and enjoy!

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Recipe – Parma Violet Cupcakes

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It feels like ages since I baked but truth be told we received sooooo many chocolates and biscuits for Christmas that we have spent the last few weeks working our way through them. I still have one Chocolate Orange lurking at the back of the cupboard but am pretty much done with the various M&S biscuit tins and Miniature Heroes so I felt it was time to dust off the Kitchen Aid and get baking.

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The trouble with being a keen baker and trying to eat a bit healthier is that the two just don’t go together. However, we all need a sweet treat now and again so I am going to try baking half batches of cupcakes and treats in order to ration myself slightly.

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Now, I know this recipe will invoke somewhat of a love/hate reaction in people as rose and violet flavours tend to be that way. I personally love these delicate tastes and these cupcakes are definitely for those that love Parma Violets as there is violet flavouring in both the cakes and the icing. If you are somewhere in the middle of the love/hate spectrum then I would advise replacing the violet flavouring from of the cakes with vanilla extract and just have the violet-flavoured icing.

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As well as using my new violet flavouring (thanks Mum!), I was also able to bake in my new pop-art cupcake cases (thanks Lucie!)…my friends and family know me so well!

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Ingredients (for 6-8 cupcakes)

For the sponge:

40g of butter or margarine at room temperature

140g of caster sugar

120g of plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

Half a teaspoon of violet flavouring

140ml of milk

1 egg

For the icing:

125g of icing sugar

40g of butter at room temperature

1 teaspoon of violet flavouring

15ml of milk

Edible glitter to decorate (optional)

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4 and line your muffin tray with cupcake cases
  • I used my Kitchen Aid for the mixing but it can obviously be done by hand too! Whisk together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined

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  • In a separate jug, mix the violet flavouring, milk and eggs then gradually add this to the dry ingredients in the mixer until smooth
  • Pour the batter into the cupcake cases (about half to two-thirds full) and then pop them in the oven

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  • Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked throughout

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  • Allow to cool while you make the frosting

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  • Whisk together the icing sugar and butter
  • In a separate jug or cup, mix the violet flavouring and milk then add it to the icing until it is light and fluffy
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled, spread the icing on top with a knife or teaspoon

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  • I sprinkled some pink edible glitter on top for decoration too

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An Easy-Peasy Breakfast Treat

After tomorrow, I have one more week of work left before we break up for the Christmas holidays. Given how chilly it is first thing in the morning and how hard it is to get out of a warm and cosy bed, I foresee lots of lazy mornings and breakfast in beds coming up.

I wanted to share a little breakfast secret of mine that makes you look like an amazing pastry chef for absolute minimal effort. These cheat-croissants will impress any houseguests, fill your kitchen with the smell of freshly baked pastry goodness and taste pretty wonderful too.

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Available from most supermarkets in the chilled aisle, this nifty little box contains everything you need for oven-fresh pain au chocolat. I made a batch of these last weekend when we had a friend to stay and I have another in the fridge ready to go for this weekend too!

All you need to do is pop open the tube and unroll the dough. You will see the perforated line to pull apart then simply add the chocolate strips and roll them up.

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After 20 minutes in the oven, you will have golden pain au chocs which are most definitely best enjoyed straight away whilst still warm. I think these would be a lovely treat to serve on Christmas morning…although any Sunday morning is always made better with the addition of French pastries.

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There is also a plain croissant variety too which is good if you don’t have such a sweet tooth; I have mine with butter and jam whilst Ian goes all continental and has his stuffed with cheese and ham.

Recipe – Easy Lemon Meringue Pies

Sometimes you want a really nice dessert but just don’t have the time/ ingredients/ inclination to make both pastry and lemon curd from scratch. Cue my super-easy lemon meringue pies using good quality but short-cut ingredients!

I bought the sweet pastry cases but would also buy a roll of ready-made pastry for this recipe too…it’s definitely OK to cheat when it comes to pastry. Lemon curd is one of my favourite things to spread on toast. I’ve never made it before but it looks pretty simple so I may give it a go in the near future. This time however I bought a jar and it worked perfectly for a quick and easy pudding.

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Ingredients

6 mini sweet pastry cases

6 generous teaspoons of lemon curd

1 egg white

50g of caster sugar

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How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 6
  • Fill each pastry case with a generous spoonful of lemon curd

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  • Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks have formed
  • Gradually add the sugar until the mixture is thick and glossy

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  • Spoon the meringue mixture onto the tarts – I like to use the back of a teaspoon to pull into little peaks

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  • Bake for 6 – 8 minutes until the meringue has started to brown

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These looked and tasted great – they were quite light so would be perfect after a hearty Sunday roast! x