Ribble Valley Sundays: The Aspinall Arms

Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Aspinall Arms at Mitton for Sunday Lunch. We had spotted this pub a few times, and from the outside, it looked lovely: a proper country pub, in a lovely rural setting, and chalkboards outside advertising food. It was one of the first to go on our list for Ribble Valley Sundays.

Although it was a cold, grey, January day, the pub was doing a good trade and the car park was busy – I was glad we had made reservations. The bar area was suitably traditional, with log fires burning, wingback chairs and dogs lying in front of the fire. Plus a few quirky little touches, like the dog biscuits and reading glasses on offer.

Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

The dining room is at the back of the pub, with huge windows that look out onto the River Ribble. There’s plenty of space, including a really large round table in the middle where a family was celebrating a birthday. I thought it would be a lovely place to have a multi-generational family celebration.

It being a Sunday, we skipped the starters, and went straight for the mains. I had the Roast Pork, which was excellent.

Roast Pork Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comGenerous slices of pork, lots of vegetables and potatoes, and, of course, fabulous crackling. I know it’s really high in calories, but it was a treat!

Tim, being unconventional, had a burger.

Burger Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comThere was also a good children’s menu, and Ben, to no-one’s surprise, confidently ordered his own pasta, which he wolfed down in about 3 minutes flat.

We stayed for both dessert and coffee, where Tim had sticky toffee pudding, and I had creme brulee. I really love creme brulee, and often order it if we’re out, as it’s something I wouldn’t ever really make at home. I can, and have in the past, but I haven’t done it for years.

Anyway, the Aspinall Arms creme brulee was lovely. It was definitely on the generous side though, and Ben may have benefitted from my shortbread.

Creme brulee Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comTim’s sticky toffee pudding was delicious, but not quite so photogenic. In fact, with a lot of editing, it wasn’t very photogenic at all, so I’ve left the photo out. Instead, here’s a very Instagram-worthy photo of our coffee.

Coffee Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

I expect this place is teeming in Summer, with its views across the river, the picturesque bridge and it’s green tractor outside for children to climb over. Despite it being freezing, Ben (and Tim) were still keen to have a go before we left.

Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

I really enjoyed this visit. The Aspinall Arms is a proper gastropub, just what you want for a Sunday lunch. Yes, it was a bit pricier – £55.00 for the three of us – but it was really lovely. I may have my eye on that big table for a birthday later in the year.

Scores:

Food 9/10

Atmosphere 9/10

Service 9/10

Child friendliness 8/10

I’ll be honest – some of these aren’t 10 because I don’t want to go too high, too early in this series!

Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

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The Cake and Bake Show

 

After finally updating my iPhotos, I’ve been able to take my photos off my small camera, so I can finally write some of the photo-heavy blog posts that I’ve been holding back.

Back in April, Tim suggested I went out for a few hours on my own while he looked after Ben. I didn’t have to be asked twice. A quick train ride and a walk later, and I was off into the Cake and Bake Show in Manchester Central.

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As you can see, it was a pretty wet and windy day!

I hadn’t been to an exhibition in Manchester Central before, but the whole process was fairly smooth. I arrived around 1pm, and some people seemed to have been there all day. There were queues to the demonstrations, which were ticketed. Although this would have been nice (demonstrations are often the best part of a day like this), the tickets were gone by the time I got there.

So I spent a few hours happily perusing the stalls, and looking at some of the incredibly decorated cakes on display.

I thought these were quite simple ideas, but incredibly effective (the flowers can be made with a cutter):

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Kimberley and Frances from GBBO 2013 did a baking demonstration in the ‘Competition Theatre.’ However, they were baking scones. I love GBBO, I loved Kimberley and Frances, and I would love to see them bake in real life. However, I can bake scones. So I moved on.

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One of the themes for the professional cake decorators was Childrens’ Cartoons. These were incredible. I really loved the How to Train Your Dragon cake.

IMG_3957 IMG_3958 IMG_3959 IMG_3960 IMG_3961 IMG_3962 IMG_3963 IMG_3964 There were also bugs made from cake and icing: IMG_3967 IMG_3968

Heston Blumenthal-style cakes that didn’t look like cakes at all:IMG_3970IMG_3971

These cake animals were incredible:

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It wasn’t all cake: there were biscuits too!

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The main theme for a lot of the cakes was ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’ This incredible elephant was created by CakeBomb artists. I witnessed the moment it was cut into (such a shame really), and it was all cake and icing!

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I did notice a few trends. Macarons are still around, and some cupcakes, but brownie-style slabs are becoming much more popular, and the slices were generous – definitely enough to feed two. I didn’t see many whole cakes, and certainly not for sale, but I suppose they wouldn’t have been that convenient.

Peanut flavour things seems to be increasing in popularity, which I personally find disappointing as I’m allergic to them, and it possibly suggests an American influence. Flavours definitely tended towards the sweet and spicy, rather than fruit, so cinnamon, caramel and chocolate were everywhere.

Decorated wrappers, colouring sprays and other accessories were everywhere. I was tempted again by a patterned rolling pin, which rolls out beautiful icing, but I don’t know if I can really justify it… I guess I need a bigger kitchen.

I love cake. I love baking. But I think I would be hard-pushed to spend all day there if I’m totally honest. I had a lovely couple of hours, but that was enough for me.

Soup Up Sunday: Spiced Carrot Soup

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I am aware that it is Monday. But it is a Bank Holiday Monday, so it kind of counts as a Sunday. At least, we’re in work tomorrow, so soup is appropriate.

It looked to be quite a pleasant day outside today. After a few hours of playing in the sandpit, chasing footballs, having jumping competitions and chasing the neighbour’s cat with Ben, I realised that it was actually quite chilly. I also realised, when I turned my attention to lunch, that we had a surplus of carrots in our fridge.

We also have a lot of potatoes that need to be used up. This recipe hasn’t really helped that much with the potato situation, but the carrots are definitely looking more manageable.

One thing I’m pleased with in this soup is that it doesn’t require fresh herbs. Of course, if you have some fresh coriander growing on your windowsill, it would be lovely. Parsley would also work well. But I had basil and mint, and I didn’t think they would go, somehow. The cumin and dried coriander work really well.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500g carrots
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 750ml vegetable stock

Method

  1. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry for 5 minutes until soft.
  2. Dice the potato and carrots. Add to the onion mixture and fry for 1 minute.
  3. Add the spices and stir well.
  4. Make up the vegetable stock and add to the saucepan. Bring to the boil.
  5. Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
  6. Using either a stick or jug blender, blend half the soup until smooth.
  7. Season to taste. Ben liked this with a spoonful of natural yoghurt stirred through.

Easter ‘Bark’

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I don’t make sweets. I don’t actually eat many sweets. This is because I consider chocolate to be a separate food group from sweets. But when I saw this recipe for something called “Easter Bark” on Pinterest, I decided to give it a go. Marshmallows, white chocolate and pretty decorations: what’s not to like?

I scaled down the recipe significantly. If I had made the whole lot according to the original recipe, I’d probably have eaten the lot, which wouldn’t do me any good.

These are really pretty, helped by the use of pastel coloured decorative flowers. The pink and white marshmallows make them particularly appropriate for Easter. I’m sure that there are many more combinations of colours and decorations which could be used.

Incidentally, I’m a bit proud of this photo. I’ve been keeping my Easter resolution and playing around with Tim’s camera. No editing needed!

Ingredients 

  • 150g white chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
  • Sprinkles

Method

  1. Line a suitable dish with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Mine took about a minute and a half, on Medium.
  3. Quickly add the marshmallows and stir well. The marshmallows will start to melt, so you need to work fast.
  4. Pour the mixture into your dish and smooth down so it is one marshmallow deep.
  5. Sprinkle your decorations over the top.
  6. Place in the fridge for several hours until solid.
  7. Cut into squares around 2cm square.

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Restaurant Review: Upstairs at the Grill

Last summer, the GCSE Exam question was entitled, “The Best and Worst Meal you have ever eaten.” I mark that particular GCSE Exam paper. Steak, it transpires, is your average 16 year old’s favourite meal. I must have read close to 200 descriptions of the perfectly cooked steak. By the end of the marking time, I was an expert on what a good steak should be like.

So when Tim booked a steak restaurant for our date this weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder, would the steak live up to those descriptions?

He needn’t have worried (I don’t think he was particularly concerned). For the first time since he was born, Ben had a night away. He went to stay with his Auntie Suzie, Uncle Matt and their children, who kept him entertained every moment. We took advantage of a hotel deal and stayed in Chester.

We’ve had a few date nights since Ben was born, but often we’ve rushed to fit everything (meal and dinner) in, and be back at a reasonable hour for our babysitters. With Ben at a sleepover, we were able to stay out late! Both of us were able to have an alcoholic drink! And (best of all) both of us could have a lie-in the following morning! Amazing.

The restaurant Tim chose was Upstairs at the Grill in Chester. From the outside, it looks small and cosy, and that’s fairly true. But it has a real sense of decadence about it, as a good steak house should. We arrived at 9pm, with a reservation for 9.30pm, and went upstairs to the cocktail bar, which should probably be described as intimate. However, the cocktail menu was extensive, and the cocktail waiter was slick and entertaining, as a good cocktail waiter should be. The cocktails we sampled were excellent, and our bar-side stools gave us a good view.

Halfway through our cocktails, we were invited to watch a ‘Steak Presentation.’ For a good five minutes, a waitress held a board with different cuts of beef on it, and went through the different types of steak on offer at the restaurant. She was keen to emphasise the feeding of the cattle – most were grass-fed on the Welsh hills. There was also steak (grain-fed) from Texas and Australia on offer. Perhaps most usefully for me, was her recommendation that the more marbled cuts of steak (e.g. rib-eye) are best cooked medium rather than rare. Since having Ben, and avoiding rare meat during pregnancy, I cannot eat very rare meat without getting ill. So this was excellent news for me, a former rare-steak lover.

According to her recommendation, both Tim and I had the rib-eye steak, with accompaniments of triple-cooked chips, onion rings and sugar snap peas. All was excellent. The steak was beautiful. The wine (the house Merlot) was delicious. The chipotle-spiced bread and bone-marrow flavoured butter was a nice touch.

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Perhaps because we were dining late, Tim and I were seated at a 4-person size table. I don’t think we’ve put on that many pounds over Christmas! However, this made the meal much more comfortable, and I wonder if it would be a bit too cosy with four around a table that size. The waiters were attentive but not overbearing, and the price was reasonable for such a good meal in Chester.

It is a rare day that I turn down dessert, but I really couldn’t have managed dessert after that steak and its accompaniments. So I can’t review the desserts, I’m afraid. However, for the cocktails, wine and steak, I can definitely recommend Upstairs at the Grill.

Grill

All photos in this post were taken by Tim. As you can tell, the restaurant was dark!

 

Pinspired! Green Smoothies

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I may have mentioned my obsession with Pinterest before. I must have spent hours, often in the middle of the night, pinning recipes, quotes, pictures of beautiful homes, tips to make your life simpler… It’s brilliant.

Incidentally, I saw this on Facebook the other day, and loved it. 1522117_10151919373846297_1320135790_n

However, when I first saw Green Smoothies being pinned, I thought, “Yuck, disgusting. Why would anyone add spinach to a smoothie?”

But then, I read about them. I thought about it a bit more. And in my New Years Health Kick, I decided to give them a go.

What do you know? They are delicious. You honestly can’t taste the spinach. There’s possibly a slightly grassy freshness to the smoothie, and yes, it is definitely green, but it tastes just like a normal banana and strawberry (or whatever fruit you choose) smoothie.

Recipe

  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 50ml fruit juice or milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 handful blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or mango (or a combination)
  • 1 pot yoghurt (individual serving)
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons oats

Method

  1. Put the spinach and fruit juice or milk into the blender. Whizz until it is completely blended. You want to do this first because getting chunks of spinach leaf in a smoothie is gross.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

It really doesn’t taste of spinach, and it has loads of vitamins. You kind of feel super healthy from drinking it. Enjoy the glow.

The Most Amazing Chocolate Raspberry Layered Pavlova

Layered Pavlova

This recipe really does deserve the title above. We had it for dessert on Boxing Day, and it was a huge hit. I was looking for an idea which I could make ahead and then assemble on the day – I really didn’t want to be cooking on Christmas Day, or early morning on Boxing Day, so I made all the component parts in advance, kept the creme patissiere in the fridge, covered, until the morning of Boxing day, and then assembled.

The creme patissiere is actually very easy to make; the flour in it stabilises it. The hardest part for me was peeling the paper off the meringues without damaging them. I had to call for an extra pair of hands for the last one.

The raspberries in this are great – hidden in the meringue layers and arranged on top – they give little pops of sharpness in contrast to the chocolate.

Ingredients

For the meringues:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

For the creme patissiere:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cream layers:

  • 400g fresh raspberries
  • 300ml double cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 140C.
  2. Line 3 baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Draw a circle 20cm diameter on each sheet (I just drew around a cake tin).
  3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar very slowly, beating again after each spoonful. Sieve over the cocoa powder and add the vinegar; fold this in.
  4. Spread the meringues onto the baking parchment circles. Bake in the oven for one hour. Then turn the oven off, and allow to cool. Note: I kept the meringues in an airtight tin.
  5. To make the creme patissiere, beat the egg yolks and sugar together, then add the cocoa and flour. Whisk together. Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan. When it is hot, slowly pour the milk and cream onto the eggs and sugar, whisking constantly. Pour everything back into the saucepan and put it back on to the heat. Keep stirring. Don’t stop stirring, and bring it to the boil. It will thicken. Then take it off the heat and add the vanilla.
  6. Allow the creme patissiere to cool. Note: I covered it with buttered greaseproof paper and put it in the fridge.
  7. Whip the cream until it is firm.
  8. To assemble the meringue, place one meringue on your serving plate. Cover with a third of the creme patissiere. Then scatter over a quarter of the raspberries, then smooth over half the cream. Place the next meringue on top, and repeat with the chocolate, raspberries and cream. The final meringue just has chocolate creme patissiere, and half the raspberries arranged as you like.
  9. Like most meringue-based desserts, you don’t want to assemble this too far in advance or it will go soggy. However, this is a great dessert to impress a crowd; yesterday, this fed 8 adults, 4 children and there was still over a quarter left.