Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Boston Tea Party Birmingham

There are so many fabulous restaurants in Birmingham, so many I never heard of and so many that I need to try. I was recently sent an invite to review The Boston Tea Party and after taking a look at their website, their ethos and most importantly, the menu, I stated yes. For those of you that don't know, The Boston Tea Party is a modern independent British cafe, one which I think is changing the perception of the British Cafe (usually associated with fry ups). Located in Corporation Street, at the heart of the city centre, this cafe is easily accessible and is open Monday-Saturday 7am - 7pm and Sunday 9am-6pm. I visited with my cousin and as soon as I entered the cafe, I was impressed with the layout, lightness and space. Also, what immediately caught my eye was the diverse range of cakes, biscuits and tray bakes, I wanted to dive straight in. I liked the seating a combination of stools and tablets and leather seats.

There was an extensive range of coffees, chocolates and homemade cold drinks, this was perfect as we visited Saturday morning and I required a strong pick me up.

Our friendly waitress, gave a run through some of popular beverages sold and I ordered the espresso with a caramel syrup and my cousin chose the rich and velvety hot chocolate. I also ordered the homemade lemonade and my cousin ordered the homemade orange juice, refreshing.

The breakfast and mains are served all day and as we arrived at 12 noon, I was longing for breakfast, but decided on ordering lunch. If you are interested in ordering a breakfast dish, you can chose from The West Country Breakfast, Chorizo Hash, Kedgeree and Brown Rice Porridge, amongst others. For lunch, I ordered the Club Sandwich (£7.95) which contained chicken, bacon, avocado mayo, tomato, cos, blue cheese mayo and a side salad, my cousin ordered the Ultimate Burger (£8.95), this included a brioche bun, bacon jam, cheddar, pickled cucumber, chipolte, aioli, tomato, cos, coleslaw and fries. As we are greedy, we also ordered the Sweet Potato Fritters & Dip (£2.95) and a Side Salad (£2.75).

The Club Sandwich was perfection, a phenomenal combination of toasted bread with all the fabulous ingredients sandwiched between each slice. Although my club sandwich did not look as hearty as my cousins burger, I had to have a mini break to try and finish it off. This was one of the best club sandwiches I have tasted, simply wonderful. My cousin also enjoyed her Ultimate Burger, it was huge, she shared that the flavours and the addition of all the extras worked well. My cousin couldn't finish off her burger, perhaps because we ordered the Sweet Potato Fritters & Dip, these were moreish, addictive and delicious.

Not only was the food delicious but we didn't have to wait long for our drinks or food which is perfect for hungry tummies. I would definitely visit again, this cafe food was scrumptious, affordable and fresh. If the amazing main dishes does not tempt you, then how about the wonderful cakes and bakes that are on sale here.

Disclaimer: I dined as a guest of The Boston Tea Party.

  Boston Tea Party Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Breakfast Salad of Bacon, Eggs Fried Bread and Frisse

Now that Spring is upon us, my palette is more open to having salads. It's not that I dislike salad, but salad for me, is similar to soup in that I associate both with seasons. This salad, inspired by the classic breakfast dish bacon and eggs, is taken from the Spring chapter in Harry Eastwood's wonderful book "A Salad For All Seasons". I enjoyed this during a mid-week lunch and whilst I enjoy bacon and eggs in a bap or sandwiched between toast, this salad, is a brilliant and healthier spin on a classic.

Serves 2 

120g lardons
100g stale bread, broken into chunks
a little salt and black pepper
2 large free-range eggs
a small head frisse lettuce
1 small banana shall, cut into tiny dice

For the dressing
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp mayonnaise
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp half-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Set a full kettle on to boil. Heat the lardons in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat until golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the stale bread to the pan with the lardon juices and season with a little salt and pepper. Once the bread is crunch and coloured, turn off the heat and set aside. Do not wash the pan,
Meanwhile, lower the eggs into boiling water and cook for exactly 6 minutes. This will ensure you have a cooked egg with a runny middle.
Next, whisk the mustard, mayonnaise, olive oil and creme fraiche in the now empty frying pan until combined. Thin down the dressing with the vinegar then taste and season.
Toss the salad leaves into the pan and coat them with the dressing before dividing between two plates. Scatter the lardons, fried bread and dices shallot over the top.
Peel the eggs and cut in half. Set on top of the finished salad with a crunch of black pepper. Serve warm.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ackee and Bacon Quiche.

I've been a fan of an Ackee and Bacon tart or as some call it quiche for a long time. I first discovered this combination of a staple Jamaican ingredient, ackee with a well-known British favourite, bacon around 10 years ago and craved more of this dish ever since. I have previously blogged about my Ackee and Bacon Tart last year on my blog. This recipe, is not the recipe previously shared, it's an improvement. Having flicked through several pages of Caribbean Potluck by the Rousseau sisters, this dish instantly appealed to me; the vibrant colours within the quiche was something I was previously lacking when I have made this dish. What I love about this Ackee and Bacon quiche is that it can be eaten anytime of the day, brunch, lunch and dinner, so there will certainly be no leftovers when making this quiche. I would highly recommend giving this recipe a go and perhaps even investing in Caribbean Potluck which is now my favourite Caribbean book I own. The only thing I would change with this recipe is to reduce the amount of liquids used in the custard filling from 240 ml milk to 200ml as I found the quiche a tad liquidy, but this was still delicious.
Here is how my Ackee and Bacon Quiche turned out:

Ackee and Bacon Quiche.

Ackee and Bacon Quiche.

Ackee and Bacon Quiche.

Ingredients, pre-bake.

Ackee and Bacon Quiche pre-bake.

For the Pastry Case and Custard 
Makes 1 x 20cm quiche (serves 6-8)
450g plain flour, plus more for rolling
pinch of sea salt
225g chilled butter, cut into pieces
up to 60ml iced water
240ml full fat milk
120ml canned coconut milk
3 medium eggs
1tbsp Dijon mustard
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt

For the Ackee and Bacon filling
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped onion
1/2 scotch bonnet chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
2 garlic cloved, very finely chopped
225g bacon rashers, finely chopped
2 tbsp sliced spring onion
1 bunch fresh thyme, chopped
50 g tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped pepper
1 x 540g can ackee, drained
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g Parmesan cheese, finely grated.

1) Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4
2) To make the pastry case, using a fine-mesh, sift together the flour and the salt into a large bowl. Gently rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until crumbly. Add just enough iced water to form a dough and knead until it comes together. Form into a ball, then, on a floured surface, roll the pastry dough into a round about 35cm diameter. Transfer to a 20cm flan tin and press the pastry with raw rice on a greaseproof paper and blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and rice and set on a wire rack to cool until ready to fill.
3) Meanwhile, to make the custard, put the milk, coconut milk, eggs, mustard and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to bake.
4) To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Toss in the onion, scotch bonnet and garlic for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the bacon and sauté for 5 minutes. Spoon off the excess fat, then stir in the spring onion, thyme, tomato and pepper and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the ackee, season with salt and pepper and mix in the Parmesan. Leave to cool. 
5) To assemble the quiche, place the ackee and bacon filling in the case and smooth the top. Pour the custard over the filling, distributing it evenly with a fork. Return the quiche over the filling and back for 45 minutes or until the custard has set. Leave to cool slightly before serving.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Hoar Cross Hall Luxury Spa Resort - Review

Hoar Cross Hall, Luxury Grade 2 Listed Spa Resort and Hotel, located in the heart of Staffordshire is probably the best known and most revered spa in the Midlands. I have heard friends talk about their visit to Hoar Cross Hall,  how fabulous the different steam rooms and facilities are and how relaxed they felt after visiting. I've heard all about the luxurious the treatments and how grand the rooms and the Italian gardens are, so this place has been on my "must visit place for 2015. When I saw a spa package deal on Secret Escapes earlier on this year I thought Christmas had come early. The spa package, for £200 included breakfast lunch and dinner and overnight stay for two people, which is some discount, considering the usual price for this package is  £160 per person. I booked this deal for a Monday night stay as I wanted to fully explore the spa on a relatively quiet day. 
On the day of my overnight stay, my expectations remained high and the driveway leading up to the spa was incredibly impressive. I felt I was approaching Downtown Abbey, so grand and regal was the imposing buildings and vast the land, I had a glimmer of what it would be like to be the lady of the manor.

Image courtesy of Hoar Cross Hall
There are two entrances to enter the spa, one for overnight stays and for day spas. As my nan and I were staying overnight, we enterd via the overnight stay entrance, as we entered we were greeted by beaming friendly staff, grand Italian chairs and fresh fruit. The following day, I spent time near the day entrance, which was equally grand with beaming staff, fresh fruit and Italian furniture. My only thought is that there were two separate entrances as the spa is located on lower ground level alongside the day entrance and the overnight spa entrance is nearer the bedrooms. Check in times were at 2pm and whereas in other hotels you can request to check in earlier, the sophisticated wrist band that we were given meant that the rooms could not be opened for check until 2pm. The spa access was granted from 11am and luggage could be held in storage which was handy as we arrived at 1pm. During check in, I was informed that tours of Hoar Cross Hall estate were available, but I decided to pass on this tour. 

There are two main areas for spa use: both areas have two beautiful 26 meter pools.  The first area has a steam room and sauna, jacuzzi with an adjourning relaxing lounge are I spent time briefly in there when visiting the steam room. I observed an aqua class occurring there, which looked like a lot of fun. I spent the majority of the time in the hydrotherapy section, where there was two powerful jacuzzis which operated on a 15 minute on and off basis. In the hydrotherapy section, there were four other spa sections; a back section, a foot massage section, power jet and the cold plunge which was only for the brave. The large swimming pool also has a cave style section, which although looked interesting I did not venture in there. I spent the first and following day mainly in the jacuzzi area I found this the most relaxing and I'm in love with the jacuzzi. The photos that I have taken are quite limited due to no photographs to be taken in the spa (I do hope they forgive me!), but I have also included some from their website. 
Spa area.

Image courtesy of Hoar Cross Hall.

Image courtesy of Hoar Cross Hall.

There is a range of treatments available from manicures, pedicures, hair treatments, to facials and full body massages. I initially planned to have a hot stone back massage, but due to a recent horse riding accident, I had to give this plan a miss. My nan had a First Element Facial, which uses natural mineral products to address your needs and concern, resulting in a revived and rebalanced complexion. My nan spoke highly of how relaxing and revitalising this facial was and stated that I must have a facial the next time I visit the spa. The treatments range from £35 - £100. 

I had high expectations of the food at Hoar Cross Hall, not because I was dining in a regal stately home, but because of the rave reviews friends have spoken about the gourmet culinary experience. As we arrived at 1pm, we ordered lunch from the champagne bar a chicken club sandwich and Staffordshire beef burgers, hand cut chips.
For the evening meal, there was a 3 course set meal. We ordered a pear and walnut salad and prawn and crab ravioli for starters, I felt the prawn and crab ravioli was nice but he sauce was lacking something. For the main courses we ordered the T Bone steak for a £6 supplement with homemade chips and the leg of lamb. The steak cooked medium, a perfect pink, succulent texture and the crispiness of the chips. My nan reported that the lamb was succulent, lightly seasoned and came of the bone. For dessert, I chose the passion fruit tart with a peppered meringue (the dessert name sounds oh so Michelin) and my nan chose mandarin cheesecake which having a mouthful I found this not to sweet, perfect creamy texture. The following day was breakfast and after a hearty evening meal, I decided to go light with granola jars and watermelon juice for breakfast. My nan chose the full English, which was reportedly traditional and delicious. For lunch, there was a buffet with a variety of hot dishes such as lamb stew, jacket potatoes, mini tarts and vegetables. There was also a selection of cold dishes of roasted vegetables and hummus, and a selection of cold salads. 

Lunch in the champagne bar.

Set menu for dinner.

Dining room area.

Breakfast and lunch.

The bedrooms were also a beautiful feature of the package, each room is named using a princess or countess title which added to the regal element of the spa package. The standard room features a double bed or twin bed, Italian sofa, chair, television, dressing table and stool. The bathrooms were light and simplistic. Complimentary shower gels, body lotions and shower caps.  The majority of the rooms have views of the Italian gardens. I was in love with the Italian furniture and design throughout the rooms such as the curtains and the bedding. 

All the staff were incredibly helpful, from the waiter to the receptionist to the handy man. No-one walked past without saying hello, which I feel is important. I just fell in love with the grounds and the beautiful decorations.

Overall: This is a fabulous spa break in the heart of Midlands if you desire rest and relaxation.

Disclaimer: I paid for this via Secret Escapes, I was not asked to write a review, but thought I would share how fabulous this spa is. 


Monday, 9 March 2015

Hotpoint Steam Blender Pt 2, Review.

I've had my Hotpoint Steam Blender for almost two months and I have thoroughly enjoyed testing this kitchen appliance. I have made a variety of dishes in my steam blender, mainly for my breakfast and lunch: I have to credit this applicant for my new love of healthier eating. My first review post I focused on my initial thoughts of using this product, but this post focuses more on my thoughts of the variety of recipes that can be made using this innovative appliance.
Hotpoint Steam Blender
After having this product for almost two months, I love stretching this machine to see what it can do. I've started marking pancake mixtures using the blending facility and found this such a hick way to make the batter for my plantain and coconut pancakes. I found the machines blending facility to be excellent and able to cut through a starchy ingredient such as plantain. I find that blending pancake and batter mixtures far easier now, as all you do is add the mixture in the blender, turn on setting 2 or 3 for around 2 minutes to discover a wonderfully blended mixture. 
Plantain and Coconut Pancakes. 
 Many of us enjoy steaming vegetables to ensure that all the nutrients remain contained in the vegetables. This Steam Blender does so much more than steaming vegetables, there is a handy basket which can be used to steam meat and fish separately. This means you can make a delicious a chunky chicken and vegetable soup, for example and place all the ingredients in the steam blender, but separate the chicken from the vegetables. I decided to test the basket facility by making ta chickpea and 2 vegetable soup which surprisingly worked very well and as they say "was a doddle to make". I simply steamed the chickpeas, onions, coconut milk and seasoning and placed the vegetables in the handy basket whilst they steamed separately. Once everything was steamed, I removed the basket, blended the stock and served in a bowl. This method would work when including chicken breasts (thinly sliced and wrapped in foil) and prawns.
Here is my Chickpea and Two Vegetable Soup:
Chickpea and Two Vegetable Soup.

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Soup.

Another favourite when using this my steam blender is making juices; it's such a healthy way to the start the day. In fact, I'm sure making juices for my weekday breakfast has contributed to my 5 lbs weight loss. I like to in-cooperate a combination of vegetables and fruits, which is always blended thoroughly so you can't taste the vegetables.
Lemon, Ginger and Parsley Juice.

Melon and Grape Juice.

For those who love indulgent drinks, the steam blender makes a fabulous milkshake. Although the ingredients for the milkshake is frozen (the ice-cream and ice cubes), blending these ingredients are no problem for this appliance. The results  of a milkshake in my steam blender is a glorious, indulgent and rich shake. 
Coffee and Banana Shake.

Recipe for Coffee Banana Shake, from 1000 Juices by Deborah Gray.
300ml coffee ice-cream (if you do not have coffee ice-cream, use vanilla and add 2 tbsp instant coffee powder)
2tbsp milk

 Put all the ingredients into the steam blender and process on low for 30 seconds, stir and process on high until smooth and whipped. Pour into a glass and serve immediately.

Makes 1 glass

Disclaimer: I received a steam blender from Hotpoint, I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own. 


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Hotpoint Steam Blender Review Pt 1.

As an avid home cook there are essential small kitchen appliances and gadgets which the majority of cooks can not live without, or would find it difficult to have no longer in their kitchen.  For example, a toaster and a kettle are considered to be essential but for many foodies there are the additional  essentials that are must haves in the kitchen such as: food processors, hand-held mixers, kitchen mixers, healthy grilling appliances, steamers and blenders. I am fortunate to have all of those kitchen items in my compact kitchen, but there is a new kitchen essential that all foodies should consider: Hotpoint's Steam Blender. For the busy cook, or those who are pressed on time, I consider this small kitchen appliance to be essential to make: soups, milkshakes, juices, baby food and crushing ice, in a matter of minutes, in fact, I've made a soup from start to finish in 15 minutes. 

Many thanks to Hotpoint for my Steam Blender which arrived with a thorough instruction pack and some handy recipes such as Soup With Pesto and Gazpacho. I briefly read the instruction manual and decided to start on making a Butternut Squash and Bacon soup. My initial impression when making this soup is that the Steam Blender is quite heavy, durable but yet also looked compact and stylish in my kitchen. The two parts of the Steam Blender were easily assembled and I decided to test whether it works ok before placing food in there. Fortunately, for this appliance, if something is not quite right, than audio will occur with letters  such as E1 and the fault is listed in the instruction manual. 

Hotpoint Steam Blender
There are several positives which I have found using this appliance in the short period of timing which I've been using. The Jug holds up to 1.5 litres of juice, I usually only prepare soup or juices for 1 or 2 people, but the glass jug is large enough it could easily make shakes and smoothies for at least 6 people,  which is perfect for large families. I did find when using the steamer function there was an initial loud noise to begin with but this quietens, after a few minutes. 
Here is a collage of what ice made so far:

Ultimate Green Juice

Butternut Squash and Bacon Soup, Leek Soup.

Cucumber Smoothie.

Carrot Juice
Handy Facts
Unique Steam Cooker/Blender
Keeps nutrients locked in
4 Speed Settings plus plus function
1.5 litre Glass Jug
LD Display With Digital Timer
Ideal for Soups and Milkshakes
1300W Power with Cooking Function
600W Blending Power
Steaming Basket
Ice Crusher
3 Year Warranty

Dimensions - H 480 X W 215 X D 195 (mm).
Colour: Stainless Steel.

The RRP is £189, however, I have seen this item for around £65.

Easy to use.
Perfect to make smoothies, juices, soups, baby food and milk shakes.
Can blend a large amount of fruit or veg.
4 different settings.
Cooks and blends.
Made by a revered brand.
Looks stylish in the kitchen.
Reasonably priced.

Not so good
Water may need to be drained when steaming vegetables for soup to prevent having too much liquid. 

I think this appliance has been prefect for me drinking regular green smoothies, so here is the recipe for my ultimate green smoothie as seen in the first collage.

Serves 1, happily
Mug of spinach,
Banana (frozen for 10 minutes), then peeled and chopped.
1 green apple, cored and seeds removed
Handful of Ice cubes
200ml water

Place all the items in the Steam Blender, turn the setting to number 2 and blend for 2 minutes.


I received the Steam Blender from Hotpoint, I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are mine.


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Leek and Gruyere Tart

There are many dishes which I consider to be "comforting" such as pasta, bread, chocolate and pastry. There are also many dishes which I consider to be "refreshing" such as salad, smoothies, exotic fruit and pastry. Yes, pastry features on both my comforting and refreshing list. Why, because nothing is more comforting than the combination of butter and flour to make a crisp pastry and nothing is more refreshing than a crisp pastry with a light filling. I've made so many quiches, tarts and pies, far too many to count and this love affair with the tart, as previously shared on the blog, stemmed from a quiche being one of the first dishes I made as a child.
This Leek and Gruyere tart is by far the best tart I've made. Why? Well, previously I made pastry using margarine but decided it's time to upgrade to non salted butter, this combined with the method of making the pastry, made the pastry easy to handle, mould and roll out. I also adored the filling, using primarily the white part of the leek (although I could not resist slicing a few of the green parts), which quickly sweetened upon frying. The starring show of this tart was the Swiss Gruyere cheese, creamy, slightly sweet and salty and one the more luxurious cheeses to bake with, made this dish moreish, addictive and luscious. I would highly recommend making this dish, perfect for the Spring months served with homemade sweet potato wedges and a leafy salad. A tart that you and your family will truly enjoy.
Here is my Leek and Gruyere tart:
Leek and Gruyere Tart.
Leek and Gruyere Tart.

Leek and Gruyere Tart.

Perfect pastry making.

Pastry rolled out.

Leeks cooking.

Cream whisking.
Pastry in tart.

Pastry pre-bake.

Recipe for Leek and Gruyere Tart.
Serves 6
1 quantity rich shortcrust pastry
Makes enough to line a 24cm flan ring tin
250g plain flour
pinch of salt
140g chilled butter
2 egg yolks
3-4 tbsp chilled water

Method for the pastry
1) Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl.
2) Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Using 2 cutlery knives and working in a scissor action, cut the butter into the flour, keeping the 2 knives in contact. Using knives rather than fingers help to keep the butter and flour cool.
3) Once the butter has been broken down to a small pea-sized pieces, use your fingertips to gently rub the little pieces of flour and butter together.
4) Give the bowl an occasional shake to lift larger lumps of butter to the surface. The mixture should become a uniform fine, pale crumb with now visible lumps of butter. If the mixture begins to turn yellow, the butter is softening too quickly and you need to put the bowl in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to chill the butter.
5) Mix the egg yolks and water together in a small bowl with a fork until evenly combined. Add 2-2 1/2 tbsp of the yolk mixture to the crumb and, using a cutlery knife, distribute the liquid as quickly as possible (this will create flakes of pastry)
6)  Pull some of the flakes to the side and feel them; if they very dry, add a little more of the liquid to any dry areas of crumb and use the knife again. Don't be tempted to add too much liquid as it can make the pastry tough.
7) Use the flat of the knife to bring a few flakes and dry crumb together, to create larger lumps. Continue like this until there are no dry crumbs in the bottom bowl.
8) Pull the pastry together with your hands, shaping it into a flat disc, about 10cm in diameter and 1.5cm thick. Do this as quickly as possible, without overworking the pastry.
9) Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 20-30 minutes before rolling out. This will relax it and prevent to much shrinkage, as well as firm up the batter.

For the Tart filling
2 small leeks, white part only
30g butter
100g Gruyere cheese
3 eggs
250ml double cream
salt and pepper

1) Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 3mm thickness and use to line a 24cm loose-based flan set on a baking sheet. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until firm to touch.
2) Meanwhile, slice the leeks length ways in half with the root still intact, then thinly slice into half-rings and discard the root end. Wash well in cold water to remove any grit, then drain well.
3) Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the leeks, cover with a damp cartouche and lid and sweat over a low heat until soft and slightly translucent. Drain the leeks or remove the lid and cartouche and allow the liquid to evaporate.
4) Blind bake the pastry for 15-20 minutes, then remove the cartouch and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and feels sandy to the touch. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 150C/Gas mark 2.
5) Put the eggs and cream into a small bowl and mix with a fork. Pass this mixture through a sieve into a clean medium bowl. Grate the cheese.
6) Add the sweated leeks and 85g of the grated cheese to the egg and cream mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
7) Using a slotted spoon spoon the leeks and cheese into the pastry; they should half-fill the case. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the filling, making sure the case is full as possible. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
8) Carefully transfer to a shelf in the lower third of the oven and bake the tart for 40-50 minutes until the custard is pale yellow colour and just a little soft in the centre.
9) Allow to cool slightly on the baking wheel, then removed the side of the tin, if using, and slide the tart onto a wire rack, or lift the flan ring after transferring.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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