Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Gerrard Arms, Aspull

The Gerrard Arms, Aspull
Another day, another recommendation. This one came from the princess of the pie, Miss Sally Stabler. In a previous post I likened her palate to that of a 75 year old chap, however this does have its uses. If anyone is going to sniff out a decent pie, chips and gravy, she's your girl. 

A few weeks ago I received an excited text from young Stabler advising of pastry cased perfection just down the road in Aspull. I hoped for something similar to the plate pies of the Hen and Chicks (RIP), but I actually found something better. Yes. 

The Gerrard Arms is a proper pub. There's a long bar, massive tellies playing the footy and a big gambler in the corner. Alongside the fizzy yellow crowd-pleasers are a few decent real ales, and the folk who frequent the place seem a good bunch. At the back is a tidy outdoor seating area which appeared to be full of cyclists, walkers and the odd dog. 
The Gerrard Arms, Aspull
The service was great for a pub, and the chap who served us seemed genuinely enthused about the food he brought out. He did look a little nervous when I told him about the pie recommendation, obviously assuming that wee Stabler was some sort of pie aficionado.

Steak pie, mushy peas, chips and gravy: Dad's pie of choice, and hand picked by my petite pie eating pal. Wonderfully deep with some of the best pastry I've tasted in ages. This encased generous chunks of beef and mushroom in a thick gravy, with a peppery finish. My dad's only complaint? Pepper. He's not a fan and felt there was a little too much. I'm more impressed that Sally ate something that had touched mushrooms, 'I was enjoying it too much, so I pulled them out!' - quote. This is a major development for a girl who won't even entertain most normal food.
The Gerrard Arms, Aspull - Steak Pie
Cheese pie, mushy peas and chips: Look at the depth on that mother! A behemoth amongst pies. One of the best cheese pies I have ever tasted. That will be the end of it.
The Gerrard Arms, Aspull - Cheese Pie
Sirloin steak with sauteed mushrooms, grilled tomato and chips: This was from the daily specials board. It wasn't the biggest of steaks, but at £13.95 you really can't grumble. It was good quality beef and came cooked as requested, which in itself has proved a bit of a battle elsewhere recently.
The Gerrard Arms, Aspull - Steak
Full of pie, we retreated without sampling the desserts, but I'd love to go back at some point to try a pudding or two. However, I'm not going to lie to you, I think I would have that cheese pie every day of my life if I could - but I fear I would be dead within a month.

The Gerrard Arms is a proper boozer that does decent food. It's not some sleek gastropub with a duckegg interior and tables reclaimed from the local cotton mill, but the food is honest and homemade, and the service was fast and friendly. I can see why Sally loves it here.

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Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Pack Horse, Affetside

The Pack Horse, Affetside
All my friends know I'm a right greedy pig, which is great because they are constantly recommending new places for me to visit. My pal Michelle sent me some pictures from The Pack Horse in Affetside a few weeks ago, which plonked it firmly on 'the list'. Although Affetside sounds like some far-flung land, it's actually only a few minutes outside Bolton on the edge of Tottington in Bury. 

We arrived to the tune of rumbling thunder and the type of sky that the Brontë sisters would have had a field day with. Watling Street sits on top of quite a steep hill which overlooks the rolling countryside below, and feels a million miles away from the pound shop infested town centre. There's a roomy outdoor seating area and the large inside skylights flood the dining room with light. 
The Pack Horse, Affetside
The Pack Horse is made up of a cluster of little snugs, with what appears to be a more modern extension to the rear. Log fires burn, walls are decorated with old maps and pretty wallpaper and the furniture appears to be a mixture of new and up-cycled church items. It was heaving when we arrived, but we still managed to get a table quickly.
The Pack Horse, Affetside
Beef burger served with baby gem lettuce, tomato, mustard mayonnaise, handcut chips and onion rings: This is a thick, 100% beef burger which has a taste of dad's barbecue circa 1994; meaty, slightly charred and piping hot. The chips were fluffy on the inside with a nice crisp edge, and the onion rings had a notable crunch. It's a shame that they forgot my cheese, and served this on a bun rather than the toasted foccacia described on the menu.
The Pack Horse, Affetside - Burger
Lancashire cheese and onion pie from the Great North Pie Co. served with hand cut chips and mushy peas: This little individual pie had crisp pastry, a rich cheesy centre and a slight after taste of fennel seeds. I know my dad's from a generation where they generally enjoy vegetables cooked to mush, but he did mention that his carrots were a little firm. Again, there was a slight issue with the order, as he had requested mash rather than chips.
The Pack Horse, Affetside - Cheese and Onion Pie
Wholetail scampi, hand cut chips and mushy peas: My mum adores scampi, and seems drawn to it wherever it appears on a menu. She was hugely impressed with this one. A crisp exterior with fresh tasting prawns on the inside - and plenty of them too.
The Pack Horse, Affetside - Scampi
Eton Mess: You can't go wrong with a big pile of meringue, whipped cream and raspberries. Surprisingly light too.
The Pack Horse, Affetside - Eton Mess
Sticky Toffee Pudding: Reassuringly lopsided thus indicating this was of the home made sort. Warm, sticky cake with little caramelised bits, and a subtle heat from the ginger. A big jug of hot custard didn't harm it either.
The Pack Horse, Affetside - Sticky Toffee Pudding
Judging by some of the reviews I have read, The Pack Horse has had a bit of a kick in the pants since being taken over by Hyde's Brewery. Old photos show a stark white building, a dining room which looked dated and a bit dirty, and customers were not always complimentary about their use of frozen chips. They've clearly spent a serious amount of cash to transform a dreary boozer into a gastropub worthy of competing with some of the other local heroes - notably the Hearth of the Ram, Eagle and Child and Fisherman's Retreat.

We all really enjoyed The Pack Horse, despite the handful of ordering misdemeanours. They were extremely busy (it's half term round here), and we probably would have bought more drinks if asked, but the food and surroundings made up for the little mistakes. Head here on a sunny day and enjoy your lunch al fresco whilst taking in the view.

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Sunday 25 May 2014

Hooters, New York

Hooters, New York
I'm not even joking - I love Hooters. It all started with a brief, yet shameful addiction with watching Girls of the Playboy Mansion. My favourite of Heff's girls, Holly Madison would wax lyrical about the burger place she worked at in her youth. When we visited Las Vegas, I had to go - and then the obsession began...

It was like crack. I had a taste for it and had to return. Therefore when we booked New York, it was always going to happen. The fact that it was only about two blocks away from our hotel was a happy accident... Hooters is an amazing place. Yes, the girls are all absolutely stunning (I'm convinced they grow them from seeds in the back), but Hooters is a family kind of place. There's always a ball game on, the service is fantastic and the food and drinks are constantly flowing. 
Hooters, New York
Although they do the standard pitchers of the popular stuff like Bud Light, they also cater for the craft beer fans, which is much more of an established scene in the States. Stick that in your pipe Anheuser-Busch. The craft selection in New York included Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA, which is as rare as rocking horse poo here in the UK.
Hooters, New York - Beer
More than a mouthful cheeseburger: Cheeky... This takes some beating. The one I had in Vegas is still one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. They keep it really simple; 100% beef burgers (served pink), a choice of cheese, fresh salad and a brioche bun. My mouth is watering just telling you about this. Oh and curly fries. You've got to love curly fries.
Hooters, New York - Burger
Hot Wings: Not so hot that they blow your head off and ruin your beer, but a decent kick all the same.
Hooters, New York - Chicken Wings
Sides: Oh the cheese sauce. Cheese dreams are made of this. I think there's a very real possibility that I would kill to have this again. It's melted American cheese with jalapeno pieces. I'm literally livid that this is so far away from me at the moment (looks for passport). We also got a free portion of fried pickles because I checked in on Foursquare - who said it doesn't pay to be a social media geek?
Hooters, New York - Sides
Key Lime Pie: Once again, memories of Vegas still fresh in my mind, I was never going to pick anything else. Single-handedly the best Key Lime Pie comes from Hooters. I don't care where it's made, or how many E numbers are in it - this is dessert heaven. A crispy biscuit base (easy...) topped with a zesty lime filling and cream.
Hooters, New York - Key Lime Pie
Revisiting these photos has quite frankly made me utterly fuming. Why don't we have anything like this in the UK? Okay, I know there's one in Nottingham, but let's face it, it won't be the same on so many levels. Although the New York one is great, it's nothing compared to the Hooters in Vegas, but then again, everything is better in Vegas...

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Tea 4 2, Manchester

Tea 4 2, Manchester
We first spotted Tea 4 2 whilst lounging around one afternoon in Microbar. It was big and shiny and had cakes in the window. Then I forgot all about it. My head has been full of new job, cake, organising cake club and planning trips. And then it came back. So off we trot. 
Tea 4 2, Manchester
Tea 4 2 is directly opposite the market entrance to the Arndale, and is actually much bigger than I anticipated. The decor reminds me a little of the Rose Garden in Didsbury, with its clean white furniture and vibrant pink flowers.
The styling seems equally important here as the food and drink, and it appears no expense has been spared. Seats and booths are upholstered in white leather with cerise buttons, walls are adorned with artistic lighting and wooden sculptures which allow playful shaped shadows to dance on the walls, and a large bulbed sign above the bar adds a little old fashioned Hollywood glamour.

This is not your bog standard tea room. Yes, there is an impressive speciality tea menu, but they also have a full bar, à la carte menu and a decent cake selection. Heavy emphasis is put on standard menu items being accessible to all, including a wide range of vegetarian, gluten free, fat free and dairy free options, making this an ideal spot for any lady who lunches. We went for mid-morning brunch, but already people were coming in to enjoy champagne fuelled afternoon tea too.

Smoothies: Manchester was boasting one of its dullest of days, with the occasional downpour that would have even had Noah running scared. The Tea 4 2 smoothie menu puts emphasis on healthy, nourishing options rather than the ones that actually end up pushing 500 calories each. My husband had the Jungle Juice; acai, blueberry, strawberry and mango, and I had the Mango Dream.
Tea 4 2, Manchester - Smoothies
Granola with Greek yogurt and honey:  This was delicious. No dusty oats here. A real tummy filler without the added fat.
Tea 4 2, Manchester - Granola
Artisan toast with seasonal jam: This jam is to die for. It's made by a company called Galore! and was the type of runny preserve that looks and tastes home made. My only criticism was that the toast was quite firm and was served with what appeared to be a vegetable based spread rather than butter, which sat on top of the toast and didn't soften it. Cue a million crumbs.
Tea 4 2, Manchester - Toast
Tea: We couldn't leave without sampling their tea. My husband had their Chinese, nut scented Nirvana, which was very pale in colour and mild in taste, but nonetheless very refreshing. I had their Storm in a D Cup; a fragrant Himalayan tea with hints of almond, known as the 'champagne of teas'. This was the perfect blend of strong tea with a sweet edge.
Tea 4 2, Manchester - Tea
Lemon syrup polenta cake: Beautifully zesty with a good sugar crust on the underside. This is perfect for those of you who are not keen on overly sweet cakes, and ideal for coeliacs because it's also gluten free. There was slightly too much syrup in the centre, but the rest of the cake was bang on the money.
Tea 4 2, Manchester - Cake
Tea 4 2 is the ideal place to shelter from a deluge, to meet up with friends or to enjoy a lazy afternoon filled with cakes and bubbles. I can already see that we'll pop back here for a well needed cup of tea and a cake, or to sample more of the breakfast menu.

Although I've not heard much about this place on the bloggers' grapevine, I'm sure they will be popular in 2014. Tea drinkers appear to be on the up, with places like Sugar JunctionRosy Lee, Richmond and Proper Tea enjoying packed dining rooms throughout the weekend. What it lacks in homely quaintness, it makes up for in it's bold, modern delivery which caters to almost everyone's needs.

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Saturday 24 May 2014

Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton

Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton
Back in the day Il Toro was my favourite Italian in the area. In fact, I still love it. Back then Luciano was their general manager, after spending some time as a chef, then manager at The Midland Hotel in Manchester (now enjoying Simon Rogan fame). They had one of the best pastry chefs I have ever come across, and the food was always fantastic. Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton
A few years later, Luciano set up his own venture a couple of miles down the road on the site of the moth-eaten Millstone restaurant - Luciano's at the Millstone. Add some Sicilian style and a sprinkling of decent business acumen, and a chic little spot was born. 

We've been several times over the past few years, yet I never seem to have got round to writing this one up. I'm all about the local heroes at the moment, so it was about time I got my act together. 

Broccoli and cauliflower soup: It was actually quite mild outside (a rarity in these parts), but after three days in a tent my husband decided that a fresh flavoured, cockle-warming soup was the answer. This was thick, tasty, and just what the doctor ordered. 
Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton - Soup
Polpettine di Manzo - home made meatballs in a rich spicy chilli tomato and basil sauce, served with fresh crusty bread: These are just fantastic. Forget dry meatballs with features resembling that of a small cannonball, these were moist, well seasoned and came served in a beautiful tomato sauce with a kick from added fresh chillies.
Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton - Meatballs
Filetto Italiano - prime fillet steak with red wine, black, green, and pink peppercorns, beef jus and brandy creamy sauce: I struggle to have anything else at Italian restaurants (I can hear Franco groaning...), because they just do it so much better than their British counterparts. I really should have put something next to this steak so you could gauge its vastness. It must have been about four inches thick, and came served with a delicate pepper sauce and perfectly cooked vegetables.
Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton - Steak
Pizza Margherita - tomato, mozzarella and oregano with added Parma ham and chicken: My husband craves pizza when he's been eating healthily. After two weeks of eating like an actual saint, this was his reward. The base was crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and had plenty of toppings per slice.
Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton - Pizza
Lemon meringue tart: I am drawn to any sort of lemon meringue. Although this was tasty, I did find the tart filling a little overdone (there was a tell-tale crack when the meringue had been devoured) and the pastry was a smidgins too thick.
Luciano's at the Millstone, Anderton - Dessert
All in all this was another wonderful meal at Luciano's. It's not the cheapest Italian in the area, but I can't remember a bad meal here. We go regularly for family celebrations, and they never seem to struggle catering for larger parties. This is the ideal spot in the summer months when you can either enjoy their large outdoor space overlooking Rivington, or sit by one of the large windows watching the world go by - and one day my brother will realise that it's not actually called Piccolino's.

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Saturday 17 May 2014

Pink Bubbles and Roses Bundt Cake

Pink Bubbles and Roses Bundt Cake
I was looking forward to this. If there's one thing my team do well (apart from the day job of course!) is FEED. This week our Alison turned the ripe young age of 30, so we had a bit of a lunch-time knees up to mark the special occasion. There was enough buffet food to feed the 5000, a bit of singing and a rather bling pink bundt cake. 

Alison is a girl with taste who enjoys her vino, so it seemed only right that it be made with pink champagne, with a hint of rose extract. The little edible gems were just the icing on the cake - literally. I even dyed the cake itself a pretty shade of pastel pink.

The added fizz makes a really moist cake with a light texture, but it still has that essential sugar crust on the base.
  • 225g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 100g solid vegetable fat at room temperature 
  • 650g golden caster sugar
  • 5 large eggs, beaten
  • 460g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 250ml Pink Champagne, Cava or Prosecco (you could even use pink lemonade) - plus a few tablespoons for the icing later
  • 1/4 tsp rose extract
  • Pink coloured food gel
  • 500g icing sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with Cake Release spray and dust with flour.
  3. Beat the butter and vegetable fat together until creamy.
  4. Add in the sugar and beat on a medium speed for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the eggs one by one on a slow speed.
  6. Add the flour and salt to a separate bowl.
  7. Add the rose extract to the bubbles.
  8. Add 1/3 of the flour to the batter and fold in.
  9. Add 1/2 of your desired choice of bubbles
  10. Alternate with flour and bubbles until it is all incorporated. 
  11. Add a little pink food gel.
  12. Give it a whizz for about 10 seconds on a medium speed.
  13. Pour your batter into the prepared tin.
  14. Pop the cake in the middle of a preheated oven for about 1 hour 30 minutes. If it's not shrinking away from the sides of the tin, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. This is a big cake so will need to be cooked for a long time on a low heat. Long and low is the way to go. Don't worry if the crust looks brown. It should be. That's the caramelised sugar and tastes fantastic!
  15. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
  16. Once fully cooled, make your champagne icing by adding enough champagne to your icing sugar to make a runny icing, and tip over your cake like you've already had 5 glasses... 
  17. I decorated mine with edible pink gems.
Pink Bubbles and Roses Bundt Cake
Bloggers/Writers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog or write about a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page.

Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Saturday 10 May 2014

Apple and Mango Bundt Cake

Apple and Mango Bundt Cake
My name is Rachel and I'm new to the world of crafting. Two of my friends recently started a local craft group called the Craftettes, for folk who are craft and know it, and really want to show it (to others). So far we've decoupaged, knitted, bottle painted and reupholstered. All that crafting makes for rather hungry ladies, so I took a big Apple and Mango bundt cake to one of our classes. 

This cake is delicately flavoured and very moist due to the addition of pureed fruit. I made this in my Matilda tin (known to the rest of the world as the Heritage tin) because nothing fails to win people over like a lovely swirly cake. 
Reupholstered Chair
My newly reupholstered chair

  • 225g butter
  • 450g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 250ml apple and mango yoghurt - one with chunks in (I used Onken)
  • 4 tbsp pureed apple (I used a sachet of pureed apples intended for kids' lunch boxes!)

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 3/160 c
  2. Prepare a regular sized bundt tin - 2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch with Cake Release spray and dust with flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  5. Add the vanilla and lemon extracts.
  6. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices.
  7. Pour the yoghurt and pureed apples into a jug.
  8. Sift in a third of the flour mix followed by half the yoghurt. Repeat this until everything is combined. 
  9. Give everything a quick mix on a low speed for about 10 seconds.
  10. Pour the mix into your prepared tin. 
  11. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  12. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  13. Dust with icing sugar.
Bloggers: Please respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and basic recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page.
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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