Countess of York: On track for afternoon tea

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Inside the Countess of York

Going to the cafe and the gift shop has become as much a part of a museum visit as enjoying the collections themselves but the National Railway Museum has gone one better – a tearoom you might want to visit with the added bonus of trip to see its remarkable collection.

The Countess of York is a charming tearoom inside a beautifully restored railway carriage with decor that evokes a bygone era.

It’s only offering is afternoon tea – but it’s a tea worth travelling for.

The traditional tiered serving of finger sandwiches, scones and fancies proves plenty to while away the time.

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Tea?

Unusually there’s also a mini soup course – currently a warming and spicy butternut squash for the autumn which, together with the warm scone, is a welcome rise in temperature.

The sweet collection includes a light creme brûlée as well as a tantalising macaroon.

And the selection of teas on offer is second to none. I sampled a robust South African estate tea and a light and perfumed China rose tea.

Both served in solid silver pots and at just the right temperature. In a world where the coffee drinker is king, this place elevates the tea drinker to be queen.
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With the uniformed waitress rushing through the carriage to serve everything or offer advice, it’s easy to forget that this is a train that’s going nowhere – sometimes you’ll need to take a quick check out of the window just to be sure that you’re not travelling down the tracks.

The afternoon tea is served each day between 12pm and 4pm. and costs £19.95 (children £14.50) or £27.50 with champagne. A visit to the tearoom includes free parking, and of course, the museum with its outstanding collection of locomotives is available for a gentle stroll after tea.

Countess of York is situated between Great Hall and Station Hall in the Museum’s South Gardens.

Autumn Afternoon tea menu by Sarah Hartley

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Welcoming the under the white horse blog

whitehorseWelcome to the latest addition to the Northern food bloggers map Under the white horse by Iona Crawford Topp in Oldstead, North Yorkshire.

The blog’s been up and running since December and covers cooking and growing food. And she sounds like a very sensible young woman too judging by her, introduction on the site:

Gin gin gin gin!!! I swear, whatever your ailment, a gin and tonic will sort you out. (no Gordon’s please)
The source of a thing is very important to me. I believe that in this age, there is very little excuse for serving or using badly sourced produce. Better for the world, your conscience and your mouth!

You can visit her site at, Under the white horse or follow on Twitter @undrthewhthrse.

* If you belong on the map – drop me a line in the comments or by email to foodiesarahATme.com and tell me a little about your blog. A link back to the map would be appreciated as well.

Taking a break at Ox Pasture Hall

Tea
Time for tea? Always!

A proper afternoon tea. Is there anything quite so daftly English as an afternoon tea? With its tiny sandwiches and cake overload all laid out in a tower of tiers which doesn’t start at the top, or the bottom, but right there in the middle – it is deliciously ridiculous

There’s good reason why Lewis Carroll set the surreal adventures of Alice in Wonderland with a tea right at its heart – yes, there’s always time for tea and, done properly, tea can stop time.

oxpasturehallWe tucked into this example in the cosy lounge of Ox Pasture Hall. It’s a comfortable country inn where the food is plentiful and unpretentious, the service friendly and welcoming.

As the tradition dictates, sandwiches are very definitely NOT butties. These are finger sandwiches designed to be held aloft as one quaffs the beverage and considers the prospects of cakes to follow. Being a good Yorkshire inn, the choice was deliciously thick cuts of beef and mustard, generously spread cream cheese and cucumber (of course) and a strongly cured smoked salmon.

Of course there’s fruit scone with strawberry jam and cream and that top layer housed the first of the lemon related sweet things a sharp lemon drizzle cake with lemon icing

Then the dainties, and plenty of lemon infusion from a bite-size lemon meringue pie and a super light lemon cheesecake before the deeply rich chocolate and nut block and creamy fudge.

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Scarborough beach

After all that tea, it was back to reality and stop suspending time to explore. Being a typically English weekend, the weather wasn’t entirely kind but pleasant enough for a stroll along the beach. Despite being hidden away deep in woodland, Ox Pasture Hall is only about a 5 minute drive away from Scarborough’s north bay with its dramatic cliffs and quintessential seaside scene of beach huts.

It’s easy to pass an hour, or two, right there on the front, to be beside the seaside.

beachhutsBut ultimately, it’s time for dinner.

The dining room is a light and comfortable space and settled in for a view over one of the gardens – the Hall has some lovely landscaped grounds and also a courtyard with fountains surrounded by the traditional buildings.

A former country farmhouse surrounded by barns and out-buildings, it has been extended and restored in a very sympathetic way to make a comfortable stay.

It is apparently the only restaurant in Scarborough to have been awarded 2-rosettes, so we were ready to be impressed.

The first arrival at the table was something of a surprise – as an Amuse-bouche should be I guess – but we genuinely weren’t expecting an oversized fish finger in a cup. OK, it was announced as a ‘goujon of cod’ but you get the idea – someone had obviously had a sip from the ‘drink me’ bottle at Alice’s party earlier as it was a giant thing!

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Beetroot and orange salad

I started with the beetroot with orange. I’m always a fan of beetroot anyway and this pretty salad was an absolute triumph with the earthiness of a beetroot sorbet holding together the plate which includes an almost overly salty salted beetroot and carpaccio slices of sweeter beets.

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Rack of lamb cuts

For my main course I went for the lamb and enjoyed two cuts off a rack of lamb which were cooked good and rare. The potato layered with shredded lamb was an interesting accompaniment as an intense contrast and the cubes of seasonal swede was a welcome vegetable too.

Himself took advantage of the pork options with a crumbly ham hock to start with the substantial belly pork, cabbage and mash going down a teat as well.

cheeseUnsurprisingly after all those cakes, a sweet seemed out of the question and so we shared the smaller of the chessboards on offer with three cheeses and chutneys – a smoked cheddar, a remarkable goats cheese and a smoked Wensleydale with apple sliced into the finest of circles.

It was a satisfying and interesting meal in a friendly and comfortable environment. If we’re ever that side of North Yorkshire again, it’ll definitely be on the itinerary.

Ox Pasture Hall Country House Hotel is at Lady Edith’s Drive, Scarborough, North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire. YO12 5TD.

 

 

* Our overnight stay at the hall with dinner, tea and breakfast was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note that I only ever accept such invitations on the understanding that I can write a true reflection of my opinion of the place for the review which is never provided to the venue for copy approval. The Sunday night offer we were treated to costs from £200. 

When is a pea, a pea?

peaAs part of an occasional series we’ll just call ‘pretentious?moi?’, I offer you pea texture. Mushy, juice, sprouts or crushed are obviously so passé, the humble pea needs a new image and so here’s just the texture of pea rather then the whole vegetable to clutter up your plate with their devious little catch-me-if-you-can spheres.

Or maybe there’s a part of the sentence missing, perhaps it should read – ‘textures of pea, fragrance of hummingbird and speed of cheetah’ or some such?

Restauranteurs, I salute your ingenuity and offer a space to celebrate it here. Any other examples gratefully received and shared here – just drop me a comment, an email or a tweet.

The dish was actually extremely good, and inthe end it turned out they were just peas with some pea juice.
The rest of the meal at Leyburn’s Sandpiper Inn, was excellent, the service very professional and the whole effect very non-pretentious – a gastropub well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity.

Hudswell pub’s noma link plus eating ants and other insects

In an unlikely piece of foodie news, North Yorkshire’s first community pub – the lovely George and Dragon in Hudswell – is apparently to get some influence from ‘the world’s best restaurant’, Copenhagen’s noma.

Better known for its Sunday roasts and Fijian curries, the pub that’s often featured on the television show The Dales has a new landlord and the Danish influence comes in the shape of a relative who works at the renowned restaurant.

Talking to the Darlington and Stockton Times,new landlord Stuart Miller, a chef with 45 year’s experience, revealed that he will be also assisted by brother Sam, who is currently sous chef at renowned Copenhagen restaurant.

What the reporter didn’t ask was whether the menu was likely to include their famous insect garnish. When noma put on a series of meals in London, the sell out events served up ants. The ants were served on a cabbage leaf drizzled with crème fraiche, and reportedly have a flavour of lemongrass after being anesthetized with cold before being eaten. Also included in the meal was edible soil with radishes buried in hazelnut, malt, rye, beer and butter with a layer of creme fraiche.

More than 20,000 ants were imported for the twenty scheduled meals that sold out in two hours at $306 a seat!

The topic of insect eating has also been looming large on Contributoria, the journalism platform I’m editor of.

Writer Rich McEachran considers our revulsion at the idea in the article I’ve posted below. (Articles on Contributoria are published with a non-commercial share and attribution licence so that blogs such as this can syndicate great pieces like this at no charge).

Can we learn to love eating insects?
By Rich McEachran

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© Six Foods: the start-up’s tortilla-style crisps are made with cricket flour

“I am confident that on finding out how good they are, we shall some day right gladly cook and eat them”, said Vincent Holt in his 1885 manifesto Why not eat insects?.

Eating insects is nothing new. Raw or cooked, they’ve long been part of staple diets, especially in South East Asia, China, Africa and Central and South America; crispy fried beetles are a popular street food in Thailand, while ant egg tacos is a popular dish in Mexico, as is roasted larvae served with guacamole.

By 2050, the world population is expected to rise to 9 billion. There are fears that this will lead to an increase in food shortages and world hunger. A report published last year by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations suggested that more people should incorporate insects into their diets. It also encouraged the international community to see insects as a food for the future if it’s serious about improving food security.

Disgust the major hurdle

Two billion people already supplement their diet with insects. But a main hurdle in the west is that people can’t stomach the thought of eating something that they associate with living in the ground. According to Jonathan Fraser, one of the co-founders of Ento (short for entomophagy), a start-up in London that is cooking up sustainable foods using insects, eating is a sensory experience and involves a lot of seeing what’s placed in front of us and not as much thinking about it.

“Most of us are not used to seeing the animal we are about to eat, be it chicken or lamb or other livestock; but traditional ways of serving insects usually present it in its whole form – like grasshopper skewers in Thailand”, he says. “We simply don’t have the cultural heritage of eating insects … Instead the overwhelming preconception is of insects as pests. This underpins our taboo against eating them.”

Disgustologists – including Valerie Curtis, an expert on hygiene and behaviour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – believe our revulsion is partly rooted in human instinct to avoid disease and, ultimately, death. This disgust response is what has led the likes of Susana Soares, a designer and senior lecturer at London South Bank University, to explore the relationship between science and technology and find new ways to consume insects. Her project, Insects au gratin, uses 3D printing to design edible structures made out of dried bug powder – insects are ground down into a fine powder and then mixed with other food products, such as chocolate, spices and cream cheese; the resulting consistency is squeezed through a nozzle and printed into a desired design.

By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice. It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.
As Soares found through her research, it’s not just cultural backgrounds that might be alienating people from dining on insects; it’s the aesthetics of the dishes themselves. How the insects are presented is key to changing our palates, says Laura D’Asaro, co-founder of Six Foods, a Boston-based start-up that is turning bugs into snack foods and tasty treats, including crisps and cookies made with cricket flour.

D’Asaro and her team recognise that the presentation needs to be to insects what hot dogs and nuggets are to pigs and chickens.

“We actually started by cooking up insects whole and quickly discovered that although the insects tasted good, our friends were hesitant to try to say the least.”

D’Asaro continues: “The individual [ingredients] that go into these food products may cause a visceral feeling of disgust, but when they are presented in a form that is familiar and delicious, Americans welcome the foods into their diet … Adding insects to something familiar like chips makes insects accessible, and people have been remarkably open and excited to try our Chirps (author’s note: Six Foods’ range of tortilla-style crisps).”

Curing caterpillars like bacon

The start-up recently raised more than $70,000 through Kickstarter with the help of nearly 1,300 backers. The success of the crowdfunding campaign shows the potential to win people over and educate them on insects’ nutritional value.

Ento has taken a similar approach to cooking with insects. Recipe experiments include cured honeycomb caterpillars, using a similar process to curing bacon. The mission is to open a restaurant and get insect ready meals on supermarket shelves.

“We fundamentally believe in being honest about what ingredients we use, but we also believe the best way for consumers to accept insects as food is to serve dishes where the insects are not visible”, says Fraser. “We combine insects with complementary ingredients, and present them in abstracted formats (such as pâté and croquettes), to make foods that are delicious and familiar to UK eaters.”

Efficient conversion into protein

Start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may have a hard time converting everyone, but the potential environmental benefits are intriguing. As Holt pointed out in his manifesto, “insects are all vegetable feeders, clean, palatable, wholesome, and decidedly more particular in their feeding than ourselves”. Insects are tremendously efficient at converting vegetation into edible protein. They are cold-blooded so don’t have to waste energy keeping their bodies warm.

“They are a source of animal protein like any other livestock. And they have numerous advantages over the animals we currently farm and eat. Take grasshoppers, for example, and compare them with beef cattle; you can get nine times as much meat for the same amount of food, due to their higher feed-conversion efficiency”, explains Fraser.

Insects also use less land and water than traditional livestock.

“It takes two thousand gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but it only takes about one gallon of water to produce a pound of crickets”, D’Asaro adds.

The positive impact insects can have on the environment doesn’t end there. They emit around 1% of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by cows and, unlike factory farming, insects can be “raised humanely in small spaces, without antibiotics or growth hormones”. This means that insects require very little upkeep.

A note of caution

With the possibility of being able to raise 1,000 crickets in a space of 1 sq ft, insects are both a cheaper and more efficient source of protein than a lot of meat and far more sustainable. Insects can boost the environment as well as diets. Still, there is reason to be cautious. Investment in insect farming in Africa is increasing, and there are concerns that if demand for insects grows then producers may be tempted to cut corners to keep costs low. Before this can even be a worry, entomophagy needs to be brought into the mainstream.

“Eating insects can be a quirk, a niche market”, says Josephine, a regular diner at an upscale restaurant in New York that has put them on the menu. “Diners come because they are intrigued. A lot will most likely try it once and then their interest will fade. They see insects as a novelty, rather than a nutritious lifestyle choice. We should be asking ourselves how we can get more people eating them and how we can make them more accessible, not simply why aren’t we eating them?”

If operations can be scaled up technologically and financially, start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may just help us learn to love eating insects.

“By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice,” says Fraser. “It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.”

Mapped: What the food inspectors found in Richmondshire

Dirty chopping boards, cheese on sale past its best before date and warm fridges – just some of the things food inspectors unearthed when they did their latest routine checks on restaurants, pubs, shops and other food premises in Richmondshire.

Those on the map below scored at the lower end of the food inspection scale and were ranked two or less by inspectors. The information was revealed after a Freedom of Information request from a Mr Perry using the public transparency website What Do They Know.

* This map is crossposted from the Richmond Noticeboard which has more detailed information on the information. Read it in full here.

Welcome to the Yorkshire Food Otter

copy-yfo-banner-check1The latest food blog to join our map of Northern Food Blogs is the Yorkshire Food Otter.

A relatively new blog, it’s all about the search for great ingredients as author Emma explains:

This blog is my search for quality ingredients produced or stocked by passionate individuals who want to encourage their customers to eat seasonally so as to taste the ingredients at their best and with confidence that their provenance can be traced. A natural path to follow on from these ideas is recommending places I have been to such as street stalls, pubs, restaurants, cafés or coffee houses, for example, that serve up glorious fare whilst also being advocates of eating and drinking knowledgeably.


* If you belong on the Northern Food Bloggers map, please let me know via the comments below or twitter @foodiesarah or email foodiesarahATme.com.

Product trial: Grey’s Christmas Hamper

Last week I caught a television programme about the upmarket store Liberty of London. It charted the establishment’s history as an emporium which brought items of wonder from the east to us in the west.

That tradition of seeking out items of wonder from far-off lands is something that’s much more difficult in these global times but our desire to be delighted is unlikely to ever be diminished.

It struck me that the same challenge can be seen when it comes to our forever roaming tastes in the culinary world. With supermarkets offering international food items sourced around the globe and online specialist sites offering just about anything your imagination could seek to find.

So when it comes to specialist food offerings, suppliers have to work hard to find that certain something that will whet our purchasing appetites. Enter Grey’s Fine Foods from North Yorkshire, they’re offering the best in Spanish food and sent me a selection in one of their Christmas hampers to try. Here’s what I found:

greys
Minimalist

Packaging
The hamper is actually a wooden crate – stylish in that designer, minimalist way. Inside all the goods are wrapped and nestling inside paper filling so there’s some excitement to digging in to find out what’s inside – a bit like a lucky dip! I liked the style of it all and, when it comes to hampers, those first impressions count for a lot.

Contents
The company promises that the contents inside will ‘surprise anyone during the festivities’. There’s certainly a good range – from their trademark charcuterie from Iberian breed pigs to luxury storecupboard items. This is a hamper for people who like to cook as well as eat, so alongside the award-winning ham there’s also a beautifully presented essentials like the Senorio de Vizcantar extra virgin olive oil which blends three olive varieties and some proper hot smoked paprika.

For the sweet-toothed there’s the traditional Christmas after dinner sweet of Turron de Jijona and an exquisite chocolate that’s blended with olive oil and sea alt. This unusual mixture comes from the Basque chocolatier Alma de Cacao and I haven’t tasted anything quite like it – rich yet light with a melting texture, it really is a remarkable dark chocolate experience. Spanish foods

Verdict
I loved it. At £50 the Grey’s Christmas Hamper would seem to be pretty good value given the quality of the contents if you’re looking for an unusual and stylish gift for the foodie in your life. Definitely something that will tickle the interest of even the most jaded tastebuds.

The Grey’s Christmas Hamper costs £50 is one of a range starting from £35. Delivery is usually 3-7 days but they offer a one-day service too if you plan to order for Christmas.

* The hamper was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section strives to say it as we find it.

Review: Going veggie down at Pizza Express

Tomato, basil, cheese and bread. How many of the world’s best dishes actually boil down to those ingredients? A recipe book attempting to feature them all would probably be a mighty tome indeed.
brushetta
But Pizza Express has known since it opened the first restaurant in 1965 that the British love affair with the tri-colour representation of Italian cuisine is a long-term relationship and across its 400 UK restaurants continues to explore new ways of presenting our favourite ingredients in interesting ways.

I’d rarely do reviews which give a chain restaurant a rattle – after all, they all offer the same thing so there’s usually little point – but as they’ve just started to introduce some new vegetarian offers into menus just now I took up the invitation to go along and ended up trying a few of the veggie options that also appear on the Christmas menu.
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Venue
I went along to the Northallerton restaurant. It’s a place that always seems to be busy in a town that’s a bit if a magnet to foodies as it also boasts a Betty’s tearoom and the remarkable upmarket food store Lewis and Cooper. Partly because it is a busy, bustling restaurant but, also because there’s something about the acoustics of the space which doesn’t make for a quiet or intimate space, instead it’s aimed much more at a family meal deal.

We decided to go for the set Christmas menu which consists of two or three courses and is kicked off in seasonal style with a choice of tipples – we went with the Prosecco then dived into the menu.

The starters all manner of differed ways of those tomatoes, basil, braed itc. The brushetta, which also features on the standard menu, is a large helping and features well-seasoned salad and herbs.

Likewise the mozzarella and tomato salad with pasta which is refreshing introduction to the meal.

For the mains we selected a goats cheese pizza – which had a light cheese and a notable velvety soft red onion marmalade to distinguish it.
salad
The standout item of this meal was the superfood salad which was a true dinner salad with lovely fresh assortment of leaves, pine nuts, goats cheese, avocado and sweet beetroot. With a dressing of balsamic syrup this salad packs a lot of flavour into those few hundred gluten free and veggie calories. A proper plate salad and most definitely not an on the side after thought.

For desert, the Christmas snowball dough balls sounded like a fun idea – but really wasn’t. The cream’s just too sweet and the dough balls not sweet or aromatic enough for a seasonal treat at a time when fruits and the rich warming scents of spices give over the festive feeling.

The winter fruit crumble by comparison answered all of those problems with its rich berries and light sweet custard layer.
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Overall
It must be difficult for a chain restaurant which everyone feels they know so well to introduce something a little bit different.

The idea of incorporating more vegetarian options into a land where the deep pan pepperoni is king is a welcome move, as are the gluten-free options.

Value

Good value at £17.25 for two courses with apperitif and £2 extra if you decide on taking the three courses.

* Please note the food was paid for by pizza express but via the issuing of a gift card which meant I was able to visit the restaurant unannounced. I prefer to do reviews in this way in order to ensure ther’s no preferential treatment dished out.

Chin chin, it’s time to get on with the elderberry gin

Fruity gin by the fire – there’s a seasonal tradition that can enjoyed at this time of the year. While you might be thinking ‘sloes’ , this recipe from guest blogger, Katy Pollard, takes advantage of a fruit that’s a bit more commonplace – the elderberry.
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Gin-tastic: Elderberries
Every year I plan to make Elderflower wine. Every year I watch the Elder flowers grow…and die. We have an Elder tree in our front garden and this year I was determined to do it. And I watched as I watched the flowers wither again this year, I realised that the berries could also be fruitful.

So this weekend when they’d become plum and juicy I took my trusty wicker basket out and snipped them down, leaving a few for the local birdies.
The Elder tree is one of our staple growers in the UK. You must be careful when plucking its goodness as most of the tree is poisonous to humans. (Make sure you remove all stems and warm the berries through before using.)

Despite this, the tree has long been believed to have medicinal qualities and is, for example, understood to help in treating ‘flu – useful for those of us looking for natural home remedies for ailments (and needing an excuse to drink this recipe).

Along with the increasing trend for complementary medicines, has been a resurgence in foraging for freely-available foods. Many now spend weekends grazing for fruit, nuts and berries. Tapping into our wild sources of food has perhaps become an even more attractive option in the current economic climate.

Similarly, gin rose to popularity in the early eighteenth century in this country when times were pretty tough and it tended to be the favoured drink of the lower classes. Believed to have a calming effect (doesn’t all alcohol in moderation?!) the spirit takes its flavor from juniper berries.
gin
With the recent interest again in gin (Hendricks anyone?) with the complementary tastes of two berries and a shared history and this seems a perfect recipe.

For a jar of Elderberry Gin:
500g of Elderberry
100g of sugar
70cl of gin

Warm berries gently (microwaving for a couple of mins works a treat) and then stir in the sugar so it starts to dissolve. Tip the mixture into a sterilised jar. Pour over the gin. Seal the jar and put in a cupboard for about a month. Take your ruby goodness out of the cupboard on Christmas Eve, open and sniff. Strain the fruit out (and use in a dessert). Pour. Enjoy.

* Katy Pollard grows herbs, fruit and veg and keeps chickens, ducks and even a pig. She loves cooking with items from the garden in Leeds and is sharing some simple seasonal recipes here.