March 2014

March 2014

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Afternoon tea review - Beckworth Emporium

I am subscribed on the internet to one or two ‘deal’ companies – you know, the ones that offer special rates for goods, services, and travel, etcetera.  About three weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox from Deal Monster and offered an Afternoon Tea for Two at Beckworth Emporium for the special price of £9.95 – what a bargain! Normally, I take a cursory glance at these emails and delete them but on this occasion - and in the interest of research you understand - I just had to buy this particular deal.
So, last Thursday, hubby and I chose a particularly wet and windy afternoon to cheer ourselves up and we took our trip through the countryside to Beckworth’s near Mears Ashby.  
There can’t be many places like this and I think we are fortunate to have this unique destination in our County. With a produce market, food hall (including deli and butcher), garden nursery and award-winning restaurant all under one roof, it can’t fail to please.
We had a wander through the nursery and, of course, couldn’t resist buying a plant or two before being shown to our seats in the conservatory restaurant. Most of the tables were occupied and many animated conversations were taking place around us which created a happy buzz. The waitress didn’t take long to take our order and we waited in anticipation. Within just a few minutes the drinks arrived followed by our food – oh my goodness, it looked beautiful, what a treat we had in store!
The large black slate brimmed with tempting morsels .The sandwiches were bedecked with green cress and hand-cooked vegetable and potato crisps and contained a variety of fillings – cheddar cheese and tomato, ham and mustard, egg mayonnaise, beef and horseradish, prawn and, finally, brie and cucumber. All were equally delicious, freshly made and tasty.
Did I have room for the sweet course – you bet I did! Now, where to begin, we had such a choice in front of us – caramel sponge cake, mini scones with jam and clotted cream, a fruit tart, shortcake and a tiny portion of trifle.  It was a foodie’s piece of paradise and I threw caution to the wind by sampling everything - only passing a few ‘extras’ to my gallant other half.
The normal price for tea for two is £19.95 and, even at that cost, is good value and I’m sure not many would walk away disappointed. We certainly didn’t.
 I wonder what offers Deal Monster will send me tomorrow.....?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club - 16th June 2012

Following the complete success of our very first meeting in May, I was so pleased that bookings for our second event came in thick and fast. By the week prior to the event, I had 24 attendees and just 1 place spare. Phew..... I had been having kittens worrying that our venue would be too small! As it happened, in the 24 hours prior to the event, I received 8 cancellations- such a shame - and 1 person didn’t turn up at all! Nevertheless, I was really pleased to welcome 11 fellow member bakers and their guests, together with their wonderful cakes.

We had such a varied selection of creations, using our Olympic Rings theme, in all shapes, sizes and flavours, including (forgive me if I have forgotten anyone):
An amazing Olympic podium fruit cake baked by Nikki (what a clever idea), a beautiful Olympic flag carrot cake baked by Debra, a light and fresh berry and almond cake baked by Caroline, a scrumptious Australian banana, lime and coconut cake baked by Sue, an innovative Coca cola cake baked by Jenny, a rich, decorated, Mocha Chinese five spice cake baked by Lisa, a soft and luscious Chocolate fudge cake (complete with Olympic medal) baked by Carmela, a boozy Chocolate rum cake baked by Laura, a delightful American Kentucky nut cake baked by Christine, a flavoursome Coffee and walnut cake baked by Marian, my own Frosted raspberry and almond cake - PLUS a guest also baked and brought along her very first cake ever  – just wonderful! I do really think that all the continents, which are represented by the Olympic Rings, were truly represented.
Owners, sisters Amy and Bridey, of the ARTea room at Wakefield Farm, near Potterspury, had laid out the tables so nicely and served the accompanying drinks in pretty dainty china cups and saucers, with knitted cosies on the teapots. The rooms had lots of little treasures and pictures to buy and I’m sure that some of our members will happily return to this newly introduced gem in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside.
At the end of our meeting, we all managed to take home slices of our favourite cakes, or ones that we wanted to try but didn’t have room for in our tummies. The remaining pieces were packed and delivered to the Oncology day unit at Northampton General Hospital. It’s a lovely thought that some of the patients attending for their cancer treatment today will be offered a slice of comforting Clandestine Club Cake.

(PS - Further photos can be found on the Clandestine Cake Club website)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Blueberry polenta cake

What a performance I had this week with trying to buy ingredients for a luscious-looking blueberry polenta cake which I discovered in a Sunday supplement. I thought it would be a nice idea to bake it and give it to a friend on her birthday.  So, armed with the torn-out recipe, I went to my local Waitrose to buy the items which are not in my store cupboard.
The recipe called for xylitol sugar substitute to be used and, as I had only seen this ingredient on my usual packet of chewing gum, I just didn’t know what the package would look like! I scanned the shelves of sugar alternatives but couldn’t see what I wanted.  I then went to look for the required second item on my list - fine polenta. After a careful scan of the shelves I found, on a bottom shelf amongst a huge display of pasta in all shapes and varieties, the usual quick-cooking large-grained polenta but I was concerned that this would make the cake ‘crunchy’. Oh goodness, I realised that I would have to try another supermarket and, just in case I couldn’t find the two ingredients there either, the blueberries - which had gone into my basket earlier - were then returned to the fruit section and I left completely empty-handed.
The drive to Tesco was a miserable affair with rain lashing down and I drove through several huge puddles that I felt almost (and I know I am prone to exaggerate) totally engulfed the car. Nevertheless, I was ‘on a mission’ but, would you believe it, in this store I still couldn’t find the two missing ingredients. Not to be outdone, I returned home and researched xylitol and, to my astonishment, found that it was sold under the Total Sweet label and sold..... in Waitrose! I also discovered that fine polenta could also be called cornmeal and that I had not been alone in not being able to easily purchase a quantity, as others had also found it difficult to source. Several forums spoke about substituting cornmeal for semolina etcetera but I was now utterly resolved - there is a streak of stubbornness in my family that I like to call determination -  to purchase the correct ingredients for this newly acquired and experimental recipe.
On returning to Waitrose, the elusive products were found within minutes, the blueberries picked up again from where I had left them earlier, and I returned home once again feeling absolutely triumphant!
Sadly, the story doesn’t stop there - before I could even put the fine polenta into my kitchen cupboard, I noticed that the ‘best before’ was stamped with 22.02.2012 - nearly four months ago!
Back to Waitrose I went and, through gritted teeth, explained the problem. The customer service member of staff was efficient and charming (they train them well at John Lewis). She checked the rest of the stock on the shelf but they were all stamped last February. She also discovered that a new batch should be delivered tomorrow. ‘Would you be able to return to the store if I telephoned to let you know of the arrival?’ she said kindly. Well, I had simply had enough at this point and agreed that this would be the best option. She refunded the amount spent twice, as ‘the product was not of best quality’ and now, back home, I am wondering what I should do with 2 punnets of blueberries and a bag of xylitol if the call doesn’t materialise.....any suggestions?

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Almost every day, whilst walking our beagle named Amber, we pass in our village (or small town as it likes to be called these days) an ancient walnut tree. According to research, the tree could date from the 1600’s and is an important landmark in this area. It was a focal point for travellers heading south towards London and was also used for many years as a meeting place for villagers seeking work from employers in the town. Sadly, however, due to its longevity and weakened by years of neglect and severe weather, only two branches remain today.  It’s so sad to see it in its current state but, I noticed today, that the sparse high twigs are, indeed, once again in leaf and so there remains a tiny amount of life, which is so nice to see.

There is a lot of ‘medic speak’ these days about the benefits of nuts in our diet and walnuts do, I am told, have a good amount of antioxidant but, putting that aside, I have always enjoyed the flavour and texture of nuts and they are especially good in baking. This week I made an Apple and Walnut cake and the sweetness from the apples and the crunch of the walnuts makes it a very pleasurable afternoon treat with a cup of tea, or it can be warmed and served with cream following a meal. If you would like the recipe, just ‘comment’ below.

In the meantime, I will continue to walk past the old gnarled walnut tree in Higham Ferrers and hope that it finds the strength to actually produce a few fruits for those that live by it; and admire its willingness to brave the elements for so many centuries.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club - inaugural meeting

We had an article published this week in the Chronicle and Echo newspaper about the first meeting of our local (Northampton) branch of the Clandestine Cake Club. If you would like to read it, here's the url:
Our next event is on Saturday, 16th June and we already have 22 attendees booked, with a maximum of only 25 places available! Our theme this time is the 'Olympic rings' and I'm sure our member bakers will be inspired by the shape, or the flavours of the continents that the rings represent. As yet, I can't divulge the secret venue but all will be revealed a few days before the meeting.'s real cloak and dagger stuff!