Posh Bacon & Eggs

TheAshton-6972Ever since I first put Eggs Benedict on the breakfast menu it’s proved to be one of our most popular breakfast choices. Guests love it and I love it too, it’s such a quick dish to prepare and it’s versatile.

You can switch the bacon for smoked salmon (Eggs Royale) or use wilted spinach (Eggs Florentine.) You can even add back pudding to make Eggs Hebridean. That’s the pesky-tarians & the vegetarians sorted, just need to come up with a vegan twist.

Hollandaise may seem difficult faffing with bain-maries & split sauces but this blender recipe is fool proof and ready in 3 minutes. I’d love to claim it as my own but I think the blessed Saint Delia of Norwich might have been who I swiped it from.

Separate 4 eggs, putting the yolks into the blender jug, don’t chuck the whites

Add 2 tbsp lemon juice & 2 tbsp water

Add 2 tsp Dijon mustard & whizz to mix

Melt 250g salted butter to bubbling

Turn the blender on & slowly pour the hot butter into the yolk mix

Voila perfect hassle free hollandaise.

In the next post I’ve a great morning muffin recipe to use up all those egg whites.


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Who the hell are YOU?

_JJJ6591Hi I’m James,
I own and run The Ashton Lancaster, a 5 bedroomed boutique bed and breakfast in Lancaster, a small Northern city sandwiched between Manchester & The Lake District.
A place I left at 16 running as fast as I could & as far as a young person’s railcard would take me. Bored of the slow pace of life. Indifferent to the dramatic landscape of verdant green valleys & fast black rivers.
Desperate to be somewhere frantic, busy and bustling. Not always making it to bed & certainly never up for breakfast.
Then my 30’s hit & the big city started to look less shiny & bit bit more dirty. “When a man’s tired of London he’s tired of life.” Well no Dr Samuel Johnson just tired to that life.
So I started a new one, back in a place written off as provincial & dull. Taking with me my partner (now husband) David, Bailey our dog & Elvis the cat.
I sometimes wonder what’s changed? Lancaster or me? Well, a little of both. In this blog I’ll post about the things around I now love – places to walk, visit, eat and shop. As well as the things that inspire my business & the way I aspire for it to be and grow.
Hopefully you’ll like it enough to come and stay one day.


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Bounteous Breakfast Buns








I’ve always struggled with muffins. Mine always seem a disappointment when compared to the huge, billowy confections that the coffee chains produce. But just read the ingredients & you’ll see these are Franken-bakes, chemically inflated & tasting of factory packing.

So I’ve come to terms with my size issues & proudly serve these little beauties for breakfast. I’ve Karen at Hopton House to thank for the recipe, I’ve tweaked it to include a few more ingredients. They’ll keep you fuelled up until lunch time.

No chemical enhancements just good stuff.


Shopping List:

50g unsalted butter melted

90g soft brown sugar

1 egg

110g wholemeal self raising flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp cinnamon

1 ripe banana mashed

1 carrot grated

1 handful of sultanas, walnuts & sunflower seeds

rolled oats to top

You’ll need a 6 hole muffin tin lined with paper cake cases. Pre-heat oven to gas 5/190 degrees

In a bowl mix the melted butter, sugar, mashed banana, carrot, sultana, chopped walnuts, seeds, egg & cinnamon. Add the flour & baking powder & mix roughly. If you over-mix the muffins will become tough. Divide the mixture between the cases, sprinkle oats on top  & pop into the oven to bake for 12 minutes. When cooked the tops should bounce back when pressed lightly.

Muffins don’t keep well so eat as soon as they’ve cooled slightly.


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Cadbury’s Fruit & Not


Fruit & Nut SliceThose of you who’ve stayed recently will have noticed a much slimmer offering at The Ashton.

Yes the beds are still super kings, the buffet still groans under the weight of breakfast goodies & the cake still gets cut with a generous hand. However your landlady is a shadow of his former self. I’ve been on a Paleo Diet in an effort to shed a bit of wine belly.

For those who don’t know The Paleo Diet or Caveman’s diet basically means eating a diet similar to our non-farming Paleolithic ancestors. Lots of lean meat, vegetables, nuts and some fruit. All good, all the things I like, but something’s missing, those numbskulls  seem to have forgotten to bake anything.

Unfortunately it seems that cake wasn’t a staple back in the Paleolithic day. So based on a loose interpretation of Paleo rules here’s a little slice of something to sweeten  a grey winter afternoon.

Shopping list: I strongly recommend a visit to Aldi. You won’t find everything there but you’ll save a ton on cashews, almonds, coconut & dried fruit. Any large supermarket should have coconut oil. It’ll be in a jar (it’s actually solid & white not liquid) probably with olive & the more exotic oils.

300g nuts (I use a mixture of whole almonds, cashews & pistachios)

100g dried fruit (experiment but cherries, cranberries & flame raisins all work well)

100g butter

1 large tbsp coconut oil

100g honey

50g desiccated, unsweetened coconut

3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Start by roughly chopping your nuts. Spread over a baking tray & toast in a low oven (120 degrees or gas mark 2.) 10 minutes should do but check after 5 & give the tray a shake so the edges don’t burn. Leave to cool.

While your nuts are chilling put the honey, butter, coconut oil & cocoa into a saucepan & heat gently to melt together. You mustn’t let this boil. Once combined leave to cool.

Take a shallow rectangular baking tray (approx 20 x 30cm) & line with greaseproof paper.

Add the nuts to your melted mixture, then fold in the dried fruit & coconut. Mix well to combine before spooning out into the baking tray. Press well down to flatten the mixture into a nice solid layer. Once done place the tray into the freezer & let it set for at least an hour.

Once chilled take the lovely, solid, chocolatey slab out of the tray. Using a sharp knife cut into pieces; squares, rectangles whatever you fancy. Just don’t make them too big as it’s incredibly rich. The bars should be kept chilled either in the fridge or freezer until needed. 10 minutes before you want a sweet treat take a bar out & allow it to warm slightly to get the full flavour hit of cocoa, nuts, fruit & honey.

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House Honey Granola

Not only is this granola delicious but making it is effortless and it fills the house with the most divine smell. I use this as a base recipe but amend it depending on what odds and sods are knocking around the baking box. So feel free to substitute flaked almonds for whole ones or hemp seeds for sesame seeds. It’s always worth having a look in Julian Graves to see what’s available in large size bags as the small supermarket 100g bags work out to be very expensive. The only rule to remember is not to add your dried fruit until the end. Otherwise you’ll be picking little charred, bitter raisins out of the mix for days.

400g Rolled Oats

125g Whole Almonds

100g each of Sunflower, Pumpkin & Sesame Seeds

125ml Sunflower OIl

250ml Honey

125ml Apple Juice

50g Brown Sugar

                                                                                               1tsp Vanilla Extract

1tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

100g dried fruit ; sultanas, chopped apricots, diced figs

In a bowl mix together the oats, nuts and seeds until evenly distributed.

Put the oil, apple juice, sugar, honey, salt and cinnamon into a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Pout the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread the mixture evenly over a baking tray & place into the oven for 1 hour at Gas Mark3/160*C

After an hour take the tray out, stir, turn the oven down to Gas Mark1/140*C for a further 1 hour.

Turn the oven off & leave to cool in the oven overnight.

When the granola is cool and ready to eat stir through the dried fruit.

Delicious served with milk or as a topping to yoghurt & compot. Right now, with so little fruit in season, I’m starting the day with an apple, sultana & cinnamon compot with a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt, a sprinkling of granola and a drizzle of honey. It looks so gorgeous & natural I can almost pretend to my self I’ve made a healthy choice.





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Autumn Cakes & Bakes

Spiced Autumn Sponge

Our glimpse of an Indian summer was brief and it’s now the dark nights and bare trees leading into Winter. I love winter food, rich stews and warming soups. Heavy red wines and a shot of brandy in your hot chocolate after a chilly dog walk. The one thing that I will miss though is Summer baking, the abundance of British berries made for quick, light and easy sweet treats; scones with strawberry jam, humongous meringues stuffed with raspberries and cream. Lots and lots of cream. The one I’ll miss most is the Victoria sponge. The perfect cake for me as it’s so quick and has just 4 main ingredients all of which I have in the larder anyway. But rather than say goodbye to Victoria until next year I wondered about giving her a Winter makeover? Adding a little spice and swapping the sunny flavors of strawberry or raspberry for something a bit richer. So here’s a twist on that Summer classic, spiced autumn Victoria sponge..


Grease and line 2 loose bottom cake tins 7/8″ Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4 180 degrees

Weigh 4 eggs then measure out an equal amount of self raising flour, golden caster sugar & butter

Cream together the softened butter & sugar until light – at least 5 minutes

Keep the mixer running adding 1 egg at a time along with a teaspoon of flour

Add the remaining flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon & a splash of milk. Fold to bring together.

Add half of the mixture to each tin & pop into the oven for 20/25 mins turning the tins after 15mins to stop the edges catching.

Once cooked leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack. It’s at this point I have to leave the house and come back after an hour, other wise I’ll try to build the cake with the sponges still warm and end up with a reservoir of cream where the cake should be.

The use an autumn fruit jam to spread on 1 side of both sponges. I like to use Hawkshead Relish Company’s Bramley and Bramble. A layer of whipped cream and then stack the 2 sponges together. Dust with icing sugar, decorate with blackberries. Serve with a mug of hot chocolate safe in the knowledge that you can hide the calories under cashmere until next Summer.


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Mucky Books

Every recipe book has one, a page that’s so regularly used it’s where the book naturally opens. As you try and open it the pages start to tear, glued together by a mixture of sugar & butter. Writing barely legible in parts hidden where a resting coffee cup has left its mark. It’s the recipe that never fails, the one you turn to when time is short or the cupboards are bare.  Here’s mine, a carrot cake from Bill Grainger’s book “Bill’s Basics,” that I’ve meddled with. While Bill sifts & orders the ingredients I find just chucking everything in a bowl and giving it a cursory mix works just as well.

Pre-heat oven to gas mark 3/170*C

Grease and base line a 23cm spring form cake tin.

Whisk 3 eggs with 250g of soft brown sugar.

Add 200g plain flour, 200g grated carrot, 3tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 100g sultanas, 100g pecans, zest of 1 orange, 250ml sunflower oil, 1 small well drained can of chopped pineapple (buy the supermarket basics tin, tiny reject pieces are perfect!)

Stir well to combine and pour into the greased tin. Bake for 1 – 1 15mins, leave to cool in the tin before topping.

For the topping melt 50g butter and mix with 200g cream cheese, 200g icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence.

As it contains fruit and vegetables this cake is almost good for you, meaning you can cut a large wedge  guilt free. In the unlikely event that it survives an afternoon it keeps brilliantly because of the moist pineapple.

So what’s your favorite mucky book……?




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6 of the Best Boutique B&BS

Another Top 6 slot for The Ashton in The Sunday Times Travel, it was from October last year, which reminds me just how slack my blogging has been recently!



No draughts, no soggy toast:these homely hideaways rival the swankiest hotels for style & service, and says Helen Fry, trump them nicely on price.

For vintage charms: The Ashton, Lancaster.

If a trip to the city of Lancaster isn’t yet on your to-do-list, it’s time for a rethink. No, honest. For such a compact place it’s got plenty to see. What’s more it’s perfectly positioned for trips to Morecambe Bay, the Lake District and the (underrated) blustery beauty of the Trough of Bowland – all fells and peaty moorland. Lancaster has yet another string to its bow – one of the best B&Bs in the country.

The Ashton’s owner, James Gray, is a former television set decorator, and his considerable creative talents have worked (seemingly) efortless contemporary magic on this Victorian villa on the edge of town. In 5 bedrooms, set over 2 floors, expect the unexpected: silky Egyptian cotton, five-star comfy mattresses and sleek wetrooms with underfloor heating.

Downstairs (you will notice on arrival, over tea or a glass of something chilled,) framed vintage-magazine covers brighten smokey grey walls, tweed and velvet cohabit with chandeliers, while mood-enhancing music soothes road-weary nerves. And just in case you thought you had to trudge out for food, here you can scoff breakfast, dinner (3 courses or a deli board) and elevenses – homemade cakes beneath glass domes on the sideboard.

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Alex Polizzi’s Top 6 Value for Money UK Beds

Absolutely floored & delighted to be picked by Alex Polizzi as one of her top 6 in March’s Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Even more delighted by what she had to say about us…

“The most stylish B&B in the country is The Ashton in Lancaster. No disrespect to the town, but it’s not something you’d expect to find there. It’s owner, James, has done an excellent job on the decor, with chic muted tones and roll top baths – it’s like a 5 star hotel. It’s a real gem and best of all, James is welcoming and genuine – something you don’t always get from B&B owners. It’s also a great place to base yourself if you’re looking to venture out into the countryside.”

For those who don’t know – how could you not know !?! Alex is hotel aristocracy, she presents The Hotel Inspector on Channel 5 and still finds time to run her own hotel, The Tresanton in Devon. Her cleavage is equally celebrated & even has its own Facebook group….

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101 Uses for a Black Banana

Banana & Pecan Loaf

Banana & Pecan Loaf

Every morning I lay out the sideboard for breakfast, carefully assembling a still life of fresh fruit anchored by a bunch of bananas. Then every morning, once everyone has had their breakfast feast, I carry the bananas into the kitchen. All still bunched together, intact, exactly as they started the day. Once back in the kitchen they will sit in a bowl, slowly progressing through the colour chart to black. In the afternoon I will drive to the supermarket to buy slightly green bananas for the next day. The banana routine has happened everyday since we opened, despite the fact that no one has ever eaten a banana at breakfast.

I’d love to break the cycle, to not have to look at a bowl of slowly aging bananas all day. But I can’t, it’s all part of our 5 star grading. Not the official Quality in Tourism grading, this award comes from a much tougher inspector, my Mum. To be 5 star there must be the provision of a banana (fairtrade) to be sliced over yoghurt (greek or of similar creaminess) and topped with granola (home-made, obviously!)

So in order to keep my family 5 star gold award  I keep buying fairtrade bananas and have a stack of recipes that call for as many overripe bananas as possible. Here’s one of the best, enjoy smeared with butter & a cafetiere of strong coffee for a perfect afternoon treat.

Banana & Pecan Loaf

75g softened butter

110g golden caster sugar

125g plain flour

100g wholemeal self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

4 ripe bananas, mashed

50g pecans snapped in half

Heat oven to gas mark 4, 180 degrees

Grease & line a 450g loaf tin

Cream together butter and sugar until pale, add eggs & vanilla extract, use 1tsp flour with each egg to stop the mixture curdling

Sift in flours, baking powder, & fold in mashed banana. Stir through nuts.

Spoon into lined tin & bake for 40-50mins


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