The Crown at High Newton: Review

Just under a year ago, my husband competed in the Grizedale Forest Triathlon, a gruelling day-long team event, involving hill running, mountain biking and canoeing. The night before, we had booked into a room at The Crown, purely because it was in close proximity to the event. Our stay was enjoyable but very short, and for his birthday, Tim suggested a return visit, this time with baby but without the race.

The Crown at High Newton is in the Lake District, 15 miles from Kendal (home of Kendal Mint Cake), and 2 miles from Cartmel (home of the Sticky Toffee Pudding company). High Newton itself is a quiet little village; The Crown is the hub of social activity, but it is well-placed for exploring the South Lakes.

There are 8 rooms, and ours was decorated tastefully and to a high standard. We were given a family room and borrowed a travel cot for Ben. All the usual amenities were provided, but there weren’t any special extras, which would have been nice. The most important part of any hotel room for me is the bed and the bathroom, and I have to say that both were excellent. Despite being woken several times by the baby (he had a cold), I had no trouble getting back to sleep because the bed was so beautifully comfortable. Bliss.

We ate one evening meal in the restaurant, which was warm, cosy and relaxed. The numbers of tables was small, perhaps only seating 30, so it felt like we had a lot of space around us.

The menu had some lovely specials, all using seasonal, local produce, which was excellent. I could have happily eaten any of the specials, which were priced at around £18 for a main course. Another section of the menu listed the regular mains, which were all pub classics, priced around £12: fish and chips, nut roast, steak pie. I thought this was a bit of a shame: it would have been nice to see some middle ground, and we chose not to have starters as we had chosen the more expensive mains.

I chose the guinea fowl, which was served with potatoes, seasonal vegetables and black pudding bon bons. I have to confess to a real weakness to black pudding. The food was excellent, and the portion size was ideal – we all had space for dessert. We had sticky toffee pudding, which I’m fairly sure was the Cartmel variety.

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It’s a nice place, although perhaps a bit confused. There’s also a sense that no-one quite knows, during the day, anyway, exactly what is going on: we had to ask about arrangements for breakfast and dinner, although both were very good. There’s also no local information in the rooms, which is a shame as there are some lovely places close to the pub which otherwise you might miss. With a bit of attention to detail, it could be lovely.

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A Valentine’s Dinner Date

Tim and I have never been out to a restaurant on Valentine’s day. Well, not unless you count lunch at McDonalds 3 years ago – it was an emergency and there really was nowhere else. Instead, we take turns to cook the other person an amazing meal. We both enjoy cooking, and like a good challenge. Over the 5 years we have been together, our menu has included lobster, steak and chocolate torte. This year, it was my turn to cook.

Starter: Comte and Leek Souffle

I had not made a souffle before, so this was a good challenge for me. It was actually much easier than I anticipated! This made 4 portions in ramekins.

Ingredients:

60g unsalted butter

75g leeks , white part only, sliced

40g plain flour

175ml milk

70g Comte cheese, grated finely

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

3 eggs, separated

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C

2. Grease the ramekin dishes with butter.

3. Melt 20g of the butter in a saucepan and add the leeks. Cook gently until very soft.

4. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan. When melted, add the flour and whisk the mixture. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the time to avoid lumps. Cook for at least a further 5 minutes. It will be a very thick sauce. Add the cheese and stir thoroughly.

5. Let the mixture cool slightly while you whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks in a separate bowl.

6. Add the egg yolks, thyme leaves and mustard to the cheese mixture.

7. Fold one spoonful of egg whites into the cheese mixture to slacken it, then fold the cheese mixture into the beaten egg whites.

8. Divide the mixture between 4 ramekin dishes, and place the ramekins into a roasting tin. Run your finger around the edge of the mixture. Somehow this makes it rise up neatly.

9.Fill the roasting tin with boiling water so that it comes to about half way up the ramekin dish.

10. Bake for approximately 18 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Main Course: Venison with sweet and sour parsnip, celeriac puree and kale

Ingredients

2 x 225g venison loins
Black pepper
20 juniper berries
75g butter
110g caster sugar
110fl oz red wine vinegar
1 parsnip, peeled, sliced into ribbons using a speed peeler

1/2 celeriac

100ml double cream
200g/7oz kale, washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed

1 pear, peeled and thinly sliced

Method
  1. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the juniper berries down finely.
  2. Season the venison loins all over with freshly ground black pepper and some of the ground juniper berries.
  3. Roll each seasoned venison loins tightly in heatproof cling film to form two sausages.
  4. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering at roughly 65C/150F (use a thermometer to check the temperature).
  5. Add the wrapped venison loins, then return the water to 65C/150F and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Peel the celeriac and cut into 2cm chunks. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Bring the sugar and vinegar to the boil into a non-reactive saucepan, then add the remaining ground juniper berries and cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon.
  8. Add the parsnip ribbons, in batches if necessary, and boil for 5-10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the poaching liquid, shake off any excess liquid, and set aside. Keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining parsnip ribbons, if necessary.
  9. Remove the poached venison loins from the water, remove the cling film and set aside.
  10. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over a medium to high until hot, then add half of the butter. When the butter is foaming, add the poached venison and fry for 30-45 seconds on each side, or until just browned all over. Remove from the pan and rest for five minutes.
  11. Put the kale into a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes, until tender.
  12. Drain the celeriac and put it into a blender. Add the cream and puree until smooth.

To serve, place a line of puree down the centre of the plate. Place slices of the pear on one side. Carve the venison into an odd number of slices and place on top of the puree. Top with the parsnip. Place the kale on the other side of the plate. Serve with red wine gravy.

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Dessert: Orange Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

The recipe for this can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/orange_panna_cotta_with_25558

I used normal oranges as blood oranges were not available, but did everything else as directed.

One of the best things about this dessert was the fact that it can be mostly made in advance. I just put the rhubarb in the oven when I served the main course, and it was perfect.

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Lent

So today is the beginning of Lent. 40 days of fasting, to focus our minds on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. 40 days as He spent 40 days in the Wilderness. 

Fasting is biblical; we are encouraged to fast to fight against injustice and on behalf of those who are suffering. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” says Isaiah 58:6. Fasting strengthens prayer, it focuses minds, it encourages the spirit. 

Fasting is also very fashionable with the 5:2 diet. Devotees fast 2 days out of every week in an effort to improve their health and to lose weight. In fact, during Biblical times, many Jews would fast two days out of every week, usually Monday and Thursday. 

For most people, fasting involves giving up food. Early observers of Lent would only eat one meal a day. During the Middle Ages, believers would give up meat, eggs and dairy, leading to Pancake Day on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the first day of Lent. Nowadays, many people give up what they consider to be a bad habit – chocolate being a common one. However, fasting can also involve giving up other luxuries. I remember one friend who fasted perfume, as it was a real pleasure for her to wear expensive perfume. For her, that was a more significant sacrifice than food.

It would probably be good for me to give up food; biscuits would be an obvious choice. While part of me likes the idea of giving up dairy, eggs and meat, I know that I would find this a huge challenge. However, while I am still breastfeeding, I’ve decided not to limit myself too much – I am already avoiding caffeine and alcohol. 

I am also focusing on certain aspects of my life each month: January was exercise, February is my marriage, and so on. So I didn’t want that to overlap too much. 

So instead of fasting, I’ve decided to commit to reading two chapters of the Bible each day. That’s all – it won’t take me too long, but it will nourish me spiritually. I’ve started in Matthew, as it is a long time since I’ve read the Gospels.

Lent is a season of preparation, not of denial: it ends with the amazing celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That is what we are preparing for. I want to use this time to get to know the word of God better.Rather than focusing on what I am missing, I want to focus on what I gain this year. 

All about me: Blog Title

“It’ll be fine,” is a phrase my mother uses. A lot. She uses it while shopping, when cooking, while trying to avert a disaster. It used to, and sometimes still does, annoy me. I didn’t want “fine.” “Fine” meant ok, just good enough, scraping a pass. I wanted “great,” “excellent,” “perfect.”

As I’ve got older, I’ve found myself using the phrase. I use it a lot at work, with my husband, with myself. The meaning of “fine” has changed quite a bit: not it is more than satisfactory, it means “it will be just right.” I think I use it more as I’ve relaxed my perfectionist streak, as I’ve tried to adopt an easy-going, relaxed attitude to motherhood. Now, sometimes, “It’ll be fine,” means “I can cope.”

When I was planning this blog, I kept thinking of the song, “It’s a fine life,” from the musical Oliver. That song is all about life not being perfect, but enjoying it nevertheless. Times may be hard, there may be challenges, but we can always look for the positive.

So “fine” no longer means “adequate.” It no longer even means “good-looking.” It means good – not perfect, but still to be enjoyed. “Fine” makes the most of life.

Cookbook Review: Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals

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I’ve had the chance to spend a bit of time in the kitchen this weekend – and I mean, a bit of time, so I’ve trialled a few of the recipes from Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals.

Tim gave me this book for Christmas, but due to our baby’s night time routine, I haven’t done very much cooking at all. However, the concept behind this is fantastic: flavoursome, healthy meals that can be created in 15 minutes from start to finish. I’ve watched quite a few of the television programmes which accompany the book, and I think the principles are really good, and do demonstrate to people that it is possible to cook well in little time. It also makes a nice change from the usual ‘fast’ meals – there is a pasta section, but there are also plenty of chicken, veggie, lamb and beef meals too. There are even recipes for ‘Quick Lamb Tagine’ and ‘Golden Chicken with Potato Gratin,’ which seem to defy expectations for fast cooking.

The recipes I’ve tried so far are White fish tagine, Falafel Wraps and Squid n Prawns in a spicy broth. All were very good. I have to be honest, and say that the recipes I chose were unusual for me – I’m not normally a big fish eater, and, although we are trying to eat more vegetarian food, I would not normally go for these to start. I think that is probably because I didn’t have to invest lots of time in a meal – I cooked them all in less than 20 minutes, and I wasn’t particularly rushing.

The ingredients are typically ‘Jamie’ – chilli, lemon and fresh herbs feature heavily – but all are easily purchased at a supermarket. Compared to 30 minute meals, the meals are priced reasonably, as well. Jamie encourages you to ‘season thoughtfully,’ and you do get the sense in the writing that he genuinely wants you to become a better cook, and for your family to eat better. There is a really good range of recipes, making good use of some ingredients like pre-cooked rice, but usually completely from scratch. I was impressed by the healthy aspect of the recipes too – all show the calorie content, and make the most of fresh vegetables. Last night’s Squid and Prawns in a spicy broth contained at least 3 of our 5 portions of vegetables.

One of the biggest criticisms of the 15 and 30 minute meals books is that you can’t do them in the time. Jamie makes it very clear that you have to be prepared – equipment out, ingredients out,  – and that you do need the right equipment. He makes good use of it though: I love, for example, how he tells you to chop up flavourings in a food processor (lemon, chilli, herbs, olive oil) and then add cous cous and hot water to the processor bowl. The cous cous is cooked quickly and efficiently with minimal washing up.

As an improvement to the 30 minute meals, I also found the recipes much more economical – probably because you’re only cooking 1 course, rather than 2 with 30 minutes. They’re also the kind of meals which fit better into our lifestyle and our tastes.

As a family who like to cook and eat well, with a baby, this is a great book. It does do what it claims.

Crumble

Rhubarb crumble is one of my husband’s favourite desserts, and as rhubarb is in season for so much of the year, I’m happy to make it often.

A crumble topping is a useful recipe to know as it is easily adaptable. It has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently, as a topping for cupcakes and muffins, giving a good crunch and texture. The recipe itself is fairly adaptable too, by adding oats, substituting brown sugar for white, adding citrus zest or other spices.

Crumbles are good over rhubarb and apple, as the crunch gives a contrast to the soft fruit. I imagine summer fruits are excellent in crumbles too: peaches, nectarines, plums. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries work well in combinations too.

The basic proportions for a crumble are as follows: 1 butter: 1 sugar: 2 flour. It is one of the few recipes where I tend to use imperial measurements, and for my dish, I used 3oz butter, 3oz sugar and 6oz flour.

The method is simple: rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then stir in the sugar and sprinkle the crumble over the fruit. Bake for 35 minutes at 160C.

Serve with custard, cream or ice cream.

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How to get a baby to keep his gloves on!

When I was little, I distinctly remember having gloves attached to a cord which went up through the sleeves of my coat. It meant you couldn’t lose your gloves, and they stayed on.

I’d been looking for something similar for my son, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. Instead, he lost gloves, pulled them off, dropped them, and ended up with cold hands. 

So I got a piece of elastic, a pair of gloves, a needle and thread and made my own!Image