Friday 28 September 2012

Dolly does the USA...

Map of USA
Evening all. I have been a little quiet of late. This is because I have been swanning around America on a quest to make Man vs. Food look like an amuse bouche. I'm always greedy, but this time I have taken the biscuit.

This year, both my husband and I turn 30. Boo. We decided to mark this milestone with a trip to America. We wanted to experience both the 'hype' and reality, so planned a trip across Nevada through to California, cramming in as much food as we could en route. A lot of our trip was only finalised in the last couple of months, as even some of the locations hinged on whether we managed to get reservations in some restaurants.

Once everything was booked, our trip looked a little like this:
Manchester - Las Vegas - Grand Canyon - Las Vegas - Beatty - Mammoth Lakes - Yosemite National Park - Napa - Yountville - San Francisco - London - Manchester.
The reason you may never have heard of some of these places is probably because there is very little there!

As well as eating in some amazing restaurants (ranging from Hooters to the French Laundry...) we saw some incredible sights and met some mental/lovely people, depending on your outlook. Some of the highlights of the trip included:

  • Surviving the 40 C heat of Las Vegas
  • Dining with just six other people in the hidden 'é by José Andrés'
  • Landing in the Grand Canyon
  • The taxi to the car rental place. Our taxi driver was a wealth of knowledge and convinced us we would be eaten by mountain lions. If not, we would die in Death Valley. Friendly chap. 
  • Talking to a champion gun slinger whilst eating chilli at Happy Burro
  • Finally seeing another car after about 100 miles... and getting my phone signal back...
  • Seeing a wolf! (For those of you who know the game... WOLVE!)
  • The huge trees and stunning scenery at Mammoth Lakes
  • Yosemite National Park's many creeks, lakes and wildlife
  • Avoiding running over a baby bear!
  • Miles of vineyards in Napa
  • The French Laundry's heirloom tomatoes 
  • Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to get into San Francisco
  • Walking down Lombard Street and nearly falling over because it's so steep
  • Coi knocking our socks off
  • Eating some of the best burgers in the world!
  • Seeing beer being made at the Anchor brewery (thanks for the tip Chris!)

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be doing posts on the places that we went to, but please be patient! I took over 600 pictures on my iPhone alone so it's taking some time to go through everything we captured! Here are a few of the journey...
Virgin Atlantic
The Strip Las Vegas
The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
Inside the Grand Canyon
Happy Burro Chili and Beer - Beatty
The road to Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes
Yosemite National Park
Vineyards in Napa
Lombard Street - San Francisco
Hope you all enjoy the upcoming posts!

Saturday 15 September 2012

Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom

Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
We are regular visitors of Ramsbottom. For such a small village, it has a wealth of amazing eateries within a short distance of the centre. The Fisherman's Retreat, Sanminis, Ramsons and the Chocolate Cafe are all fantastic places to go and spend an afternoon. However, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal out after our last working day before our holidays.

We had seen Hearth of the Ram taking shape whilst the restaurant was renovated a few months ago. Outside was beginning to look a little like an old favourite, The Clog and Billycock in Pleasington. Its name popped up at cake club and last week when asking Twitter for lunch ideas. It was playing on my mind...

We had a ganders at their website to see if it looked any cop, and then my husband saw two words which make him as giddy as a little kipper; scotch egg. A little like his obsession with Welsh rarebit, he has to sample the 'delicacy' if it appears on any menu. Once again, he holds one particular egg in high regard; that fashioned by Heston's own Hind's Head pub in Bray. When we got there we also spied the rarebit... this had escaped our viewing from home because the words 'scotch' and 'egg' had proved a little too much...

We arrived ridiculously early for our booking. I had hugely overcompensated (as per usual) for the Rammy Festival being on. I was convinced we would be snarled up in a horrific line of restaurant-kiboshing traffic. Not the case. In fact I have never seen Ramsbottom so quiet! Everyone was on foot. It didn't matter that we were early either. We were welcomed by a friendly chap who had more than a passing resemblance to Frankie Boyle who showed us to a comfy table by a window. People-watching paradise.

The scotch egg and Welsh rarebit come from the Simple Things Done Well menu. These two are bitesized items which work well as a side or smaller starter. Saying that, if I had eaten all that rarebit to myself you would have had to roll me home! Both dishes were superb. Worth going back for these alone! These are proper bar snacks; rustic and homely but packed with flavour.
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
For our mains, my husband picked the rump of lamb with creamed potatoes from the Dinner Menu, and I had the burger from the Simple Things Done Well menu. We also got a side of triple cooked chunky chips; purely for the purposes of testing...

I quite like this approach. When I go somewhere that loosely fits int he 'gastropub' category I ask myself 'would my dad like it?'. Yes, John would bloody love this. He could happily stick to the Simple menu whilst the slightly more adventurous can pick from the Dinner menu. This leans more to the refined side. There is talk of puree, veloute and jus for God's sake...
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom

Although we had dishes from opposite ends of the menu spectrum, we were both impressed with the presentation and flavours. The mint on the lamb was beautifully subtle and the meat was soft and tender. The burger was cooked pink with a slab of good quality cheese. The only thing I would change here was the relish. It contained star anise which seemed to overpower the taste of the tomato. Perhaps a little too fragrant for this dish.

The fennel slaw was fresh and tangy and a nice variation on a theme. Portion sizes were good too. Although we both felt well fed, neither of us had that 'I'm so full I might want to cry/sleep/die' feeling. That was nice.

I was quite excited to see the dessert menu for two reasons. Firstly we had loved everything set in front of us so far, so things were looking promising. Secondly, this is the mantra on their menus... I like these people.

Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
The dessert menu seemed much smaller than the one I had read on the a la carte menu online, so I was  a little disappointed that I couldn't sample their lemon meringue. I was also hoping to see some winter warmer type things, but alas no. Desserts swing more to the fine dining side of the menu. We ordered the Bramley apple tart with vanilla ice cream. We decided to share it because nothing really caught my eye. It was really cold outside so I was craving something warm and most of the desserts seemed to be served cold.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little number. Served more like a vanilla slice, the 'tart' was filled with creme patisserie and apples. It was beautiful. Really light and sweet with a tangy apple jelly. It's just a pity Summer buggered off as this would be perfect served with a little sunshine. It would be my personal preference to remove the popping candy from the ice-cream. I think this fad has probably died a death and it masked the taste of the ice cream a little.
Hearth of the Ram Ramsbottom
We'll definitely be going back to Hearth of the Ram. We were made to feel really welcome by everyone we came in contact with and the food was well executed. I think they need to maybe expand their simple menu and save the fine dining dishes to a specials menu which can be updated daily. This would allow choice whilst expanding what they do best. I'm really looking forward to trying their food in the middle of winter, and have fingers crossed for homely desserts...

For more details about the restaurant, please visit their website, their Facebook page and follow the on Twitter @HearthoftheRam.
Hearth of the Ram on Urbanspoon

Thursday 13 September 2012

Bake Me I'm Yours... Cupcake Fun by Carolyn White

Bake Me I'm Yours... Cupcake Fun by Carolyn White
National Cupcake Week 2012Last week I got sent this little beauty in the post. I don't really do a lot of cake decorating as I find sugar paste a little fiddly, but this book shows you really simple ways of making everyone think you're really clever...

Next week is National Cupcake Week, so I though what better way to celebrate than with a cupcake book review! Celebrations start from 17th September through to 23rd. I'm not actually home for the festivities, so I thought it best to do something beforehand. This month's Calendar Cakes Challenge is cupcake related too, so it's a match made in heaven!

Bake Me I'm Yours... Cupcake Fun by Carolyn WhiteI really like the 'Bake Me I'm Yours' range. I recently reviewed Sarah Trivuncic's Sweet Bitesize Bakes version too. They all include great little bakes that look really impressive but don't take an age to make. Cupcake Fun follows a similar style to Bitesize Bakes. You are given an arsenal of simple yet tasty recipes, a series of techniques and then some ideas which you can either follow or use as inspiration.

The book teaches you how to:
Bake Me I'm Yours... Cupcake Fun by Carolyn White
  • pipe buttercream
  • make sugar paste more maleable using CMC
  • colour suger paste
  • make effects e.g. flames and sky
  • create people and animals
  • create special finishes e.g. lustres and water ripples
  • make crafty display ideas
  • transport safely (every cake clubber reading this just straightened up in their chair...)
It also includes really creative decoration ideas which I have never seen on commercial cupcakes. They fall into four categories:
  1. Barnyard Fun - animals, including lambs, cows, sheep, dogs and blackbirds.
  2. Spaced Out - aliens, astronauts, rockets, planets and stars.
  3. Dressing Up - ambulances, fire, police, doctors and nurses, the army and pop stars.
  4. Fairytales and Adventure - pirates, mermaids, fairies and knights.
Of course you could just use these as inspiration for your own ideas, as the techniques section will teach you all you need to know about creating the bits and bobs which combine to make a masterpiece. It even tells you how much sugar paste you will need. This is something I always massively underestimate when covering something and overestimate when making little things. 

If you fancy having a bash at a bit of decorating over National Cupcake Week, pick up this fab little book. Don't forget to enter your creations into the Calendar Cakes Challenge too!

Publisher: David and Charles, 2012
Hardback, £9.99 
Purchase at
Disclaimer: I reviewed this book because it's perfect for National Cupcake Week.

Reader Offer Alert!
Readers can order Bake Me I’m Yours… Cupcake Fun for the special price of £7.49 (rrp9.99 with free p&p (UK only). 
To order please visit cupcake fun and quote code R11675 upon checkout or call RUCraft on 0844 8805851

Sunday 9 September 2012

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Back to School

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
They day started as a challenge, but ended in a huge success. The sun shone on Bolton on Saturday, meaning other plans being made and cakes melting in overheated cars. In they came, one by one... with their own tales of woe from a stressful morning of baking or travelling disasters. However, this is the wonderful thing about cake club. When one layer cake slides into the side of the box on the passenger seat, we all feel the pain. Saturday was one of those days.

It's amazing what a little support from your friends can to to instantly calm the anxiety and stop those tears toot sweet. After all feeling the pressure a little yesterday, we sat down to enjoy what we all love about being part of the Clandestine Cake Club, and that's a good natter with friends old and new.

Our theme for September was Back to School. I asked our bakers to take inspiration from schoolday favourites or recipes packed with nostalgia. This could be in the form of decoration, inspiration, the recipe or one of the ingredients.

We had a spectacular venue for our September meet. The lovely folk at the Albert Halls in Bolton had heard about our club and offered me their spacious Lancaster Suite. They put out a huge table for our cakes as well as our own bar. It was also noted by our members that they had the best disposable napkins we have ever seen! We even had our own event manager. Ella is a keen baker and told us wonderful stories of making a hundred doughnuts using over fifty egg yolks! She may be joining us next time...
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Loads of room for cakes on the longest table in the world!
I have to admit that this month's theme was meant to be a challenge. My aim was to push people's creativity in the hope of getting a diverse mix of cakes. They delivered. The cakes included:

  • Cherryade Cake
  • Giant Chocolate Doughnut Cake
  • Stop Children! Lollypop Sign Cake
  • Lemon Love Cake
  • Harriet Hedgehog Cake
  • Jammy Wagon Wheel Cake
  • Alphabet Baking Coconut Carrot Cake
  • Pineapple Upside Down Cake
  • Banana and Pink Custard Sponge Cake
  • Cheer Up Cherry Cake
  • Sticky Toffee Cake
  • Jam Sponge and Custard Cake
  • Fairy Liquid Cake - Ginger Loaf with Ginger and Lime Icing
  • Spotted Dick and Custard Cake
  • Conkers and Marbles Cake
  • Sticky Toffee Traybake
  • My Pencil Case Cake
  • Eton Mess Cake
  • Cinder Toffee Cake
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
  • Staff Room Jaffa Cake

And of course... I have some pictures too...

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton
Once again, thanks to everyone who came and to the venue for being so accommodating.

Next month's theme is Monster Mash, so I'm certain there'll be some fantastic cakes!

If you attended, please leave your comments... If you didn't let us know your thoughts!

Monday 3 September 2012

Meal Planning Monday - Post 5:2

Meal Planning Monday
So this is the deal. For the past three weeks I have been following the 5:2 diet. I've mixed things up in order to see what works best for me and lost 1-3 pounds a week. It wasn't that hard when splitting the fast days and I could eat what I want on my normal days. However, I have decided not to continue with it. I think I can achieve better results with a normal healthy eating plan. I've felt quite a bit of guilt over this, but it's just not for me 100% of the time. What I would say is that I am keeping this regime in my arsenal, because the fast days are great if you have been caning it over the weekend or have had a particularly indulgent week.

So, here's my regular healthy meal plan for this week...

Monday: Chicken and vegetable stew
Tuesday: Home made low fat corned beef hash
Wednesday: Low fat Lincolnshire sausages with carrot and swede mash
Thursday: At the hairdressers, so possibly just a chicken sandwich on wholemeal bread
Friday: Out at Solita for my friend's birthday do!
Saturday: Cake club! Write off.
Sunday: Home made burgers with frites.

Please leave your comments below... x

Sunday 2 September 2012

Almost Famous, Manchester

Almost Famous Manchester
Almost Famous, but mainly infamous. The folks behind Socio Rehab, Keko Moku and Home Sweet Home have come up trumps yet again. Their trendy little empire is pulling in the punters, who are generally raving about their venues on every social media platform possible. Burger man Beau Myers was recently voted 33rd in the Northern Restaurant & Bar top 50 influential people; that's only eight places below Northcote's Nigel Haworth.

Those behind the scenes have quite a reputation. Public squabbles, warnings on the website and swearing on Twitter. Bloggers and press divided in their views. It's all going on. If this is really the case, why do Almost Famous have an semi cult like following of fans? I donned my very best 'balls to it' attitude and decided to give them a try. I even took some pictures despite the warnings not to. Crazy mother.

My first experience of Almost Famous was during the Diamond Jubilee weekend. I'd been dying to go back ever since, but then they closed... but they reopened again! We decided it was about time we got our act together and sampled some of this filthy food for ourselves.

Almost Famous don't have an address on their website; just 'M4 1PH Large Wooden Door'. You follow the stairs up two floors where you are greeted by a bedazzled bar. Bottles surrounded by fairy lights, and the charming Kirsten. Some had made reference to the staff being a little rude, but this being all part of the 'act'. I have to say our experience could not have been further from the truth. The restaurant didn't have a queue a mile long, and it wasn't full of hipsters either. Phew!

Almost Famous ManchesterKirsten explained how things at Almost Famous worked, and within minutes we had decided what we wanted despite not fully understanding what we were ordering! My drink arrived in a jar. I had heard about this. I'm still unconvinced by this one. However, all was forgiven when our food arrived...

Some people fail to be impressed by burgers. I am not one of those people. There's something about a burger so sloppy that you can barely eat it. Ketchup dripping everywhere, tomato sliding the top bun sideways and of course the juice from a pink burger making the bread a little soggy. Man vs. Food craving calling...

We both went for the signature Famous Burger; two patties on a brioche bun with cheese, tomato, red onion, pickles and famous sauce. Described on the menu as 'signature serve, double on juice and flavour - pure dirty burger lovin' satisfaction that leaves you wet for more'. Maybe under normal circumstances, but we also had sides...

Almost Famous Manchester
Almost Famous, ManchesterThis burger is a little bit special. Good quality meat, cooked well and not messed with. It's juicy with just the right amount of 'slop' on a sweet bun. It's a winner in my eyes. It was certainly better than one I had on the other side of Manchester a few weeks ago.

Now we may look like pigs of the week, but we really underestimated the size of the sides. We ordered six Crack Wings with Suicide (hot) sauce and some Chilli Cheese Fries. The wings are juicy and hot, and come served with a portion of blue cheese dip to cool things down. Now then, in our little world we imagined the Chilli Cheese Fries to be chips covered in some sort of spicy sprinkly stuff. WRONG. When they say chilli, they mean actual chilli! The stuff made with beef! This is a meal in itself. The fries were fantastic, but I have to confess to only making a mouse sized dent in these bad boys (in fact I'm confident a mouse would have done better than we did - lightweights...).

Crisis averted, Kirsten offered to wrap them up so we could take the rest home! Amazing! They already have a plan for just such an occasion...
Almost Famous Manchester
Almost Famous Manchester
We really enjoyed the food, the laid back atmosphere and the friendly staff. Was it what we were expecting? No. Would we go again? Definitely. 

Almost Famous on Urbanspoon
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