Miss Babs

Most of you will have met Bailey & seen my daily battles to keep Elvis from barging into the house. And because life isn’t busy or exciting enough last year I decided to add an extra element of chaos to the day, Barbara.

We’d been thinking about getting another dog for a while but couldn’t agree on what kind. I was insistent on another Bailey, something labrador based. Easily bribed with food of any kind, loyal and ploddingly dependable. David however had other ideas. Think of any breed know for stubbornness, needing a firm hand, lots of exercise. Preferably big and quite wary of strangers – that’s what we were having. Not one suggestion would have passed the interview for ideal B&B dog.

We were at an impasse until the fateful hand of Facebook intervened with this photo.


Six puppies born in an animal shelter in Spain, plus mum, all needing homes. Heart melted, no discussion, puppy found. Obviously I didn’t admit to having signed up to adopt, completed the application form and booked a home check. Just started to sow the seed that maybe we should adopt not shop. It wasn’t an easy sell but gradually David started to come around to the idea. Endless puppy photos can be very wearing.

Unfortunately the whole litter contracted parvo from the shelter and gradually all of them were living at the vets. One by one they started to fade and I’d get daily updates from the Spanish fosterer to say that another hadn’t made it. But two survived and I was delighted when we got to choose which we’d like? The boy or the girl.

Barbara moved to a wonderful foster home with her brother Eddie and a UK based charity Angels Kiss worked with Pets Go Home to arrange the transport here. For anyone thinking of doing the same I can’t stress just how fabulous all of these people are. Everything was taken care of vaccinations, passport, transport. All we had to do was wait.

Obviously she checked in on Friday afternoon, just as everyone else did. So no time to settle in, straight to work as the new B&B dog on the block. She’s a year old now and despite the escapology, chewing, trashing & early morning howling she’s great.

So in order to give a little back and to help more dogs like Barbara we’re going to be doing a couple of things and we’d like your help. Firstly we’ll be holding a champagne High Tea on Sunday 15th July with all proceeds going to Teluma’s Dream, (the charity run by Maria who initially rescued and then fostered Barbara.) If you like to come please give me a call.

We also now have two rooms where you are welcome to bring your bestie along. Rooms 1 & 6 are dog friendly with easy access to the garden. Unlike most places we don’t charge a supplement for bring a well behaved dog. Instead we’ll be providing a gift from Barbara and asking that you leave a donation (monetary not bagged!) to Angel’s Kiss – the York based charity who co-ordinate the adoption and ongoing support once the dogs arrive in the UK.


So really hope to see you soon, either at the Sunday high tea, or with your fur baby. Babs and Bailey aren’t the most sociable, they hate entertaining at home. But are always happy to share treats and the inside on the best walks in the area.


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Simply Shake

One of the most used bits of kit in The Ashton kitchen is a very humble empty jam jar. Emptied, rinsed and dried I add two heaped teaspoons of cinnamon before filling two thirds of the way up with caster sugar, then shaken to mix. It then sits right at the edge of the baking shelf ready to add a touch of sweetness and spice to so many things.

Sprinkled over the top of a cake before baking, stirred into a strong coffee, a light dusting over a bowl of steaming porridge. I use it to make my cinnamon brioche french toast too. But with some post Christmas bulk to shift I’ve had to find a slightly lighter way to start the day.

So as a way to warm and lift a bowl of morning fruit this spiced apple compote is a quick seasonal fix. Simply peel core and cube a brambly apple. Toss it into a large saucepan, add a splash of apple juice, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon/sugar mix. Cover with a lid and bring quickly to the boil. Reduce the heat to a slight simmer and cook briefly. The occasional jiggle of the pan will help along the way. You want the apple to just start to break down around the edges.

Delicious spooned over berries, banana and greek yoghurt. Have a great breakfast!




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Ruin Mother/Mother’s Ruin – Part 2

And after a day spent with your nearest & dearest you might need a little lift. Loved this cocktail recipe from The Modern Pantry in this week’s Saturday Guardian.

It reminded me of the time I recommended The Modern Pantry as a breakfast venue for my Mum & her friends. Unfortunately Clerkenwell is not a part of London any of them know & by the time they’d circled, passed & missed the place breakfast was long over.

Taking pity on them the fabulous staff sat them in a quiet corner with a glass of champagne until the lunch service started.

They had a great time & would love to go back – unfortunately none of them have any recollection of where it was or what they ate!

Stolen from http://www.theguardian.com

Cocktail of the week: a Mother’s Day tipple from the Modern Pantry – recipe

Mum’s the word this weekend, says the Modern Pantry’s bar manager, with this nifty cocktail recipe for the most important woman in your life

Good mixer: Mother’s little helper cocktail
 Photograph: Dan Matthews for the Guardian

We came up with this for Mother’s Day, in honour of mums everywhere. It’s a twist on the classic French 75, only blue (like valium), and we’ve called it Mother’s Little Helper. Serves one.

20ml gin (we use The London No 1)
5ml blue curaçao
10ml lemon juice
10ml sugar cane syrup (made the usual way, by dissolving 2 parts sugar cane in 1 part water)
80ml champagne 

Put everything bar the champagne in a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain into a flute, top with champagne and garnish with an edible flower.

 Pablo Lopez Jarana is bar manager at The Modern Pantry, London EC2.


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Ruin Mother/Mother’s Ruin Part 1

imagesMy mother taught me to cook from a very early age, not because she’s a whizz in the kitchen – but because she’s amazing at delegating.

It’s stood me in good stead & I believe that the ability to put food together a plate of food is one of the most important life lessons you can pass on. It teaches how to budget, look after your health, brings people together and is a tipping point in marital bliss vs bust up.

So here’s a quick and easy recipe to teach or treat on Mother’s Day – (you might want to supervise the gin bit.)

Cinnamon Brioche French Toast with Strawberry Salad

Serves 1 Yummy Mummy

Hull & halve a punnet of strawberries. Place in a bowl with a handful of blueberries and dust over 1tbsp of icing sugar. Douse with 1 tbsp of damson gin, stir & leave to steep while you make the toast.

Whisk 2 eggs with 1tsp of cinnamon & 1tbsp of caster sugar. Take 3 slices of brioche & soak in the egg mixture, making sure each piece gets well covered. Leave for 2 minutes while you heat a heavy based frying pan. Add 1 tbsp of coconut oil. Once sizzling add the eggy soaked bread & carefully fry until golden brown. Control your heat carefully, the high butter content of the brioche means will burn in an instant.

Once cooked stack the french toast in a heap. Spoon the berries over the top, dust with icing sugar & serve with a shot of maple syrup.

Follow with another important life lesson – how to load a dishwaher.

Happy Mother’s Day!



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Fancy a Piece of Sandie?




Or Derek, Loretta or Phil? I’m on the hunt for a name for this cake. It’s a recipe I invented when I needed a dairy free bake for a guest. The problem is it’s jam packed full of fruit but it’s not a fruit cake.  There are a ton of flavours but not one that shouts out to exclude the others. So I’ve found I end up reeling off all the ingredients.

“Would you like a slice of pineapple, carrot, cranberry, raisin, pineapple, walnut, ginger and honey cake?” Hardly trips off the tongue and it’s a lot to remember. So if you can think of a suitable moniker for this slice of sticky, sweet, spice please let me know.

Preheat your oven to 160*c gas mark 3. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin.

Whisk 3 large eggs with 250g of soft brown sugar until well combined. With the mixer still running slowly pour in 250ml of sunflower oil in a thin stream.

To the wet mixture add 200g plain flour, 3 tsp baking power, 100g chopped walnuts, 50g dried cranberries, 50g raisins, 2 grated carrots, small tin of pineapple pieces (Sainsburys value range are the perfect size chunks,) 1 tsp dry ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 balls of stem ginger very finely chopped into tiny pieces. Stir together to combine.

Pour the mixture into the tin, level & place into the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Once out of the oven prick the top all over with a skewer. Heat 4tbsp of honey until very runny. Pour over the top of the cake turning it to cover the surface. Leave to cool before turning out.

Serve with a pot of tea and a newspaper as we do at The Ashton every weekend. Or Nigel (?) makes a great pudding served warm with Wallings vanilla ice cream





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Not an Egg McMuffin


It’s amazing how much people’s breakfast habits are changing as low carb, gluten free and high protein diets become mainstream.  Bread and pastries just aren’t popular & I’m finding my breakfast baking sits unloved & untouched before becoming afternoon tea for the chickens.

So I’ve started making these high protein egg muffins to add to the breakfast buffet. They’re super easy, super quick, and easily customised to your favourite flavours. I do smoked salmon & Spring onion, sun-dried tomato & goats cheese, fry some pancetta with onion & red peppers, chorizo (again fried) and halloumi. Most things work well except mushroom or red onion – they give them an unfortunate grey pallor.

You’ll need a 6 hole silicone muffin tin (they’re sticky little suckers.)

Lightly whisk 6 large eggs with a pinch of salt & grind of pepper. Place a heaped tablespoon of your favorite filling into each of the muffin holes. Then pour in the egg mix to just below the rim of the muffin tin. Give each muffin a light stir to distribute the filling so it doesn’t all sit at the bottom. If I’m using cheese I’ll usually keep some back to sprinkle on the tops. They’ll rise quite a bit in the oven.

Place in an oven preheated to 180*C gas mark 4 for 20 minutes. They’re done when they spring back when pressed. Allow to cool slightly before turning out.

Best served straight away but any left over make a great lunch time alternative to a sandwich. Whatever you do don’t put them in the fridge, being fridge cold does nothing to improve the taste or texture.


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Wake Up With An Aussie

Bill Granger is the absolute king of the Aussie Brekkie, someone who’s books I have a kleptomaniac compulsion for. The original Bills is a tiny corner cafe in Darlinghurst Sydney. The perfect neighbourhood hang out with a few seats a large communal table to kick back at read the weekend papers and tuck into a full Aussie.

When I first opened all those years a go I thought I’d put one of Bill’s breakfasts on my menu with a breakfast BLT. Two thick slices of griddled sourdough sandwiching rocket, grilled bacon, avocado and a spicy tomato relish. Delicious I thought. Unfortunately no one else did, the avocado special sat on the menu, unordered & badly spelt until I admitted defeat & replaced it with a less exotic stacked English muffin.

However after Nigella cooked up a storm by starting her new series ‘Simply Nigella’ with a recipe for avocado on toast I thought I’d give the alligator pear another try. Now it’s one of out most popular midweek orders, served smashed on toasted rye bread with a squeeze of lemon a sprinkle of chilli flakes and topped with two poached eggs.

When the weekend allows a little more time – but not enough to fly to Sydney – why not start your day with an Aussie Brekkie.

Cut a thick slice of sourdough bread and 3 thick slices of halloumi. Heat a thick based pan with a little olive oil. Griddle the bread and the halloumi until golden then put to one side. Add a handful of sliced chestnut mushrooms and baby plum tomatoes, saute until the mushrooms are softened & the tomatoes have started to blister. Finish with chopped parsley & cracked black pepper. Slice an avocado & toss in a little lemon juice and a pinch of chilli flakes. Cook two eggs – any style. Then plate up.

Sourdough topped with avocado. Next to it the mushroom & tomato with halloumi perched on top. Then your eggs on the side. And as it’s the weekend why not pour yourself a bucks fizz.



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Lancaster – Open for Business

Great to see a couple of Lancaster businesses back open this week after Storm Desmond wreaked havoc way back in December.

Quite Simply French on St Georges Quay is back cooking on gas after closing to renovate. Really excited to see their new look. I’m sure the menu will be the same great stable of French bistro classics but the new decor will be even more OO-LAH-LAH!


Standfast & Barracks also took a battering, absolutely heart breaking to think of all those rolls of linen & silk ending up filthy & skipped. For anyone who’s never been the factory shop is a treasure trove of upholstery fabric. Famous names like Designer’s Guild, Liberty, Harlequin, Cath Kidson all at heavily discounted prices.

Standfast & Barracks Factory Shop


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Crumbs, Breakfast in Bed The Rules

RM-Breakfast.in.BedBreakfast in bed is meant to be the ultimate indulgent treat. A luxury reserved for anniversaries & wedding mornings. However it can also be an utter nightmare. Balancing a small tray loaded with coffee and orange over just white Egyptian cotton, EEK!

So here are a few golden rules if you’re treating a loved one this weekend.

My Mum used to get the dubious pleasure of breakfast in bed every Mother’s Day. A concoction of spilt juice, lukewarm tea and great uneven slabs of lightly charred toast. Feigning delight but no doubt thinking about just what horrors awaited downstairs? Was the kitchen on fire? Rule 1 – clear up.

What to serve? Hopefully having reached the breakfast in bed point you’ll know the recipient fairly well. But just in case you don’t you might want to check they’re not vegetarian before presenting a plated pile of piggy bits. For those awkward mornings, waking up with a vague recollection of the night before & with a stranger lying next to you, might I suggest a fruit plate & a smoked salmon & cream cheese bagel. Minimal effort but impressive enough to warrant a phone number should you want it. Rule 2 – know your audience.

Smoked salmon is the only fish that should make an appearance in the bedroom whether on a bagel or with scrambled eggs. Other fish are just too stinky to consider. Baked beans should be avoided for the same reason. “Thank you for my breakfast, but it’s just racked up a £100 dry cleaning bill.” Rule 3 – Nothing that slips, smells or slides

The best bedroom food can be eaten with fingers or one handed and this needn’t limit you to bacon buns or bowls of cereal. A stack of pancakes with strawberries, maple syrup & vanilla yoghurt can easily be tackled with a fork. Rule 4 – Be inventive, think beyond British – BLT, bagel, croque monsieur make great cutlery free choices

Toast never makes trip from kitchen to bedside well. Pre butter & it’ll arrive soggy & soft. Leave them to do it themselves & crumbs everywhere, makes for an uncomfortable lie in. Which option ever you choose it’s likely to be cold and disappointing, never good thing in the boudoir. – Rule 5 Always buy great bread, a slice of soft freshly baked loaf, or chewy tart sour dough trumps cold toast.

So rather than face the trials & tribulations of breakfast pleasure giving why not leave it to the experts?

p.s. And for those of you lucky breakfast recipients please remember eating naked only looks good in the movies.


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French Fancies

UnknownThis is a great way to use up all the egg whites left from making hollandaise. Friands are small French muffins. The basic ingredients are ground almonds, butter, egg white & icing sugar. They’re usually flavoured with fruit, chocolate or coconut. They’re a great gluten free bake, just replace plain flour with rice flour. The word friand translates as dainty – something you’ll be far from if these become a daily addition to your breakfast menu.

You’ll need a 6 hole silicone muffin tin. 4 egg whites, 70g ground almonds, 110g icing sugar, 75g melted unsalted butter, 50g plain flour, a handful of raspberries.

Preheat the oven to 180C Gas Mark 4. Mix together the dry ingredients with the melted butter. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites to a soft peak. Carefully fold the egg whites into the batter being careful to keep it as airy as possible.

Pour the batter into the muffin tin. Press 4 or 5 raspberries into the top of each friend. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the tops bounce back when pressed. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack.

The high almond content means these little babies store well for a couple of days – if they manage to hang around that long.


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