We love where we live. We’re so lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world, surrounded by gorgeous countryside and yet just 30 minutes’ train ride away from London. I feel like we have the best of both worlds. Recently, the lovely chaps at booking.com asked about our favourite places to eat and stay in the Chilterns, and it’s honestly taken us lots of evenings of chat (and lots of bottles of wine) to narrow down our choices, such is the wealth of fabulous places throughout Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and beyond! Here, then, without further ado, is my perfect foodie weekend in the Chilterns. I do hope if you’re ever in the area, you’ll come and give some of these fab places a try!
You know me – any excuse to get into the kitchen and have a fiddle with a new product, so imagine my delight when the lovely chaps at The Snaffling Pig Co, makers of high quality, deliciously flavoured pork crackling products, got in touch about a great new product called Crackling Crumb. Essentially, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: delicious Snaffling Pig pork crackling, minus the seasoning, ground into a crumb so that it can be used to add a scrummy crunch to all sorts of meals and it recently won a Great Taste Award 2017 too. I’m devoting this week to all things crunchy and crumby, starting with my delicious crunchy brunchy breakfast burger. Plus I’ve got a range of The Snaffling Pig Co products to give away!
We get through tons of granola here at number one. Mr E and I both like it for breakfast, and the boys scoff enormous bowls of it whenever they’re hungry and often when they come in last thing at night, so it’s really important to me to buy great quality granola (we’ve all bought those ones that are a bit – well, ‘sawdusty’, haven’t we?). I use granola in quite a few different ways, and I thought I might share them with you. So here are a few different breakfast ideas using our fave Nature’s Path granola, including these really easy and yummy coconut and chia seed granola bars, plus the chance to win a lovely gift for you too!
It’s SO cold!! I know we should probably all be ‘clean eating’ or whatever it is that we all do to make ourselves feel even more miserable’ at this time of year, but for me, mornings start best when they involve baked goods and a bucket of tea. These vanilla breakfast muffins use real butter and that old fashioned ‘wet into dry’ method. Feel free to add whatever you like to the recipe: chocolate chips are a favourite here. I like to add blueberries, then top the muffins with a sprinkling of granola, which makes them feel extra breakfasty. Remember, with a muffin recipe, you need to assemble the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, then stir the wet into the dry, making sure you don’t overmix (a bit of flour visible is absolutely fine).
I’m home!! Oh we had such a lovely time on our cruise (if you’ve been following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you’ll have seen all the fun), and I’m literally back for one day before Erica and I head out to Walt Disney World Resort, Florida to check out everything new in the world of Disney dining (and to whizz around on a few rides, of course). I was delighted to come back to a fabulous delivery in the shape of new Ryvita Lunch Packs, so as Erica’s staying before we head off to Gatwick, we though we’d have a little play and concoct some quick and healthy snackage to set us up for our long flight.
OMG it’s so sunny isn’t it? I’m absolutely loving it. The boys went camping last night – they found a place locally what would allow groups of young lads (I’ll report back to tell you whether that was a wise decision) and off they went with tents, sleeping bags, one of those bucket barbecue things, and basically the entire contents of the fridge: bacon, sausages, plus my freshly baked bread. I said on Twitter the other day that having teenagers is kind of like having massive Borrowers. You bake something, then ten minutes later it’s vanished and there are just crumbs left. Oh well, at least they won’t starve. I’m having a bit of a health kick at the moment myself, leading up to our family cruise in September (squee!): following a ten minute weights workout every other morning (to combat the dreaded bingo wings) and doing sit ups, bike rides with Mr E (who is waaay fitter than me) and longer dog walks too. These delicious kiwifruit and coconut breakfast bowls contain one of my latest obsession: Zespri SunGold kiwifruit. Have you seen them?
Literally as soon as I let my guard down, my old habits have slipped back in. Mr E and I noticed that our no wine on a school night rule had slowly reverted to a wine on every night rule, so we’ve got very firm with ourselves, and my must have breakfast every day rule has slipped again too (let’s skip the don’t eat biscuits with every cup of tea rule – I’m working on that one). Back on the horse, then, I’m concentrating on creating delicious, healthy breakfasts for myself every day, and I’ve got a couple of lovely new discoveries for you:
One of our biggest stress points is our morning routine. The boys often have to be up early, and Charlie has to catch an early bus from a nearby town on two days a week. They always hit snooze and go back to sleep and ALWAYS insist on squeezing in a shower, even if they’re already late. It drives me crackers. I absolutely hate it when they rush out without eating.
Did you know it’s National Apple Day today? To celebrate, I’m starting the day with a delicious bowl of spiced apple porridge. The spiced apple compote can be used for loads of things: spooning over ice cream, stirring through yoghurt, on top of rice pudding as a delicious dessert (add a splash of rum too, if you like), and it’s great with savoury dishes too like roast pork. But this morning, with the rain battering the windows, I chose a big, warming bowl of porridge. By the way, the spice I use is pumpkin pie mix from Steenbergs Organic, but you can use a couple of pinches of anything warming: nutmeg or cinnamon, maybe.
For the compote:
I’ve used English eating apples. I tend to make quite a big batch of this and keep it for other things, but you can make it with a single apple too – just with a dot of butter and a couple of pinches of spice
5 English apples – I used Coxes
2 tbsps brown sugar
Couple of tablespoons of water
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Peel and core the apples and chop them into quite small pieces. Butter an ovenproof dish, then tumble in the apple pieces. Dot with the remaining butter, sprinkle over the sugar and spices and dribble with the water. Give it a quick stir then cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until the apple pieces are tender.
While the compote is baking, make your favourite porridge recipe. Stir the compote through the porridge and finish with a dribble of honey and a little extra spice. Delicious, and a really comforting start to the day!
For more information about English apples, visit Love English Apples.
While I’m never going to be one of those people that shuns sugar altogether (moderation in all things), I am trying to eat less. I’ve had several attempts at this recipe now and finally think I’ve got the it just right – a healthy, nutritious, sugar free, low GI granola bar. I’ve also upped the quantities of nuts and seed. Don’t discount butter when you’re trying to eat a healthy diet – proper butter (organic if possible – not the spreadable stuff) is full of vitamin A, D and K (great for your bones), and rich in short- and medium-chain fatty acids too. Also, divide the 150g by 12 portions and that’s less than a tablespoon of butter per slice – probably about the same as you’d spread on a couple of slices of toast.
So how did you feel this morning when the alarm went off? After all the lovely festive lie-ins, English Towers was not a happy household. I find that what you really, really need on these cold mornings (apart from a hug, obviously), is a mahoosive tower of puffy, fluffy American pancakes. The lovely chaps at Flora were kind enough to share their wonderful recipe for American pancakes with me, and challenged me to come up with some awesome breakfast recipes to help you all through all these ffffrrrreeeezing mornings!
So the other night, I was driving the boys round to meet their buddies, the lovely Marshes (they’re twins so they’re always referred to this way – makes it easier). As we drove along, a little black speckly cat ran straight at us from the grass verge. We all saw it and gasped and, of course, knew exactly what was going to happen – I slammed on the brakes (without even checking my mirror, I’m horrified to say), there was screeching (both from me and the tyres) and… BANG! Of course I did what any animal lover did, which was to stay rooted to my seat and burst into tears – I couldn’t bear to get out. The boys, smothering me with cuddles and reassuring me it wasn’t my fault, took a deep breath and got out to look…
No cat. And it was a big bang. We looked all around grass verges where we we’d stopped, then a very kind couple stopped and asked if we were okay and the man checked all underneath the car… but really, no cat.
Sooo we heaved a deep breath, got back in the car, thanked our lucky stars there were no cars behind us when we screeched to a stop, and I dropped them off. When I got home, I walked down to where it happened to have another search and there, under some bushes, was the little cat, definitely the same one, looking a bit dazed and wide-eyed, but no visible damage. I went to touch it, but it got up and ran away. Incredible.
Anyway, to soothe myself after this ordeal I headed home for comfort food, and spotting the punnet of blueberries in the fridge, I set to and made myself an enormous stack of blueberry pancakes. What? They were medicinal. For the shock…
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
2 large, free range eggs
1/2 pint milk
Couple of handfuls of blueberries.
Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs and milk to make a thick batter. Now you can either stir in the blueberries, or wait until you’re cooking and pop them on to the pancakes – I prefer this way as it makes it a bit more even – plus it looks prettier.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil (I use rapeseed). Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch. Pop the blueberries on, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. If you’ve got big blueberries (ooer), you might need to squish them gently just to make sure the pancake batter touches the surface of the pan, but generally I’m not an advocate of squishing pancakes as it forces the air out.
So after a big pile of light, fluffy pancakes studded with beautiful soft little fruity jewels, with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey, I felt a bit better.
Bet that poor cat’s got a headache.
So when the hubby is home, one of our naughty pleasures is sending him off on a McDonald’s run (I know, but everything in moderation, etc). There aren’t many things nicer than a sausage and egg McMuffin, especially if you’ve had a *cough* heavy night – plus there’s the benefit of no washing up afterwards. I do differ with the boys about one thing, though, the dreaded hash browns. The McDonald’s ones are so greasy it’s unreal. I’m not a fan.
So when McCain wrote to me last week offering to send us a lovely breakfast, including hash browns, you can imagine I was slightly sceptical. Still, they did us proud, with a fabulous selection of British outdoor-reared pork sausages and bacon, English muffins, free range eggs, the aforementioned hash browns and loads of lovely fruit and yogurt too.
Here, then, for your viewing pleasure is possibly the best breakfast we’ve ever had:
And the verdict on the hash browns? Very nice. They’re oven baked so seem much crunchier and not at all greasy or soggy, plus they’re much thicker so you get a crispy outside and a nice soft, fluffy centre. Charlie managed to eat four, which is probably some kind of record, but still couldn’t be persuaded to eat any fruit.
Thanks to McCain for the veritable feast!
So when it comes to the weekend, breakfast has become a thing of the past, especially now we have teenagers in the house who don’t emerge until a) there’s a phone call inviting them somewhere exciting, or b) they smell bacon.
Brunch has become the new breakfast, and it’s a great opportunity for me to get baking (which also passes the time until everyone’s out of their respective pits).
What to cook, then?
Well, the aforementioned bacon happens to be a staple of our brunches. Free range and preferably streaky, it’s stuffed into crusty bread and piled onto teetering mounds of pancakes before being drenched in maple syrup. You can use any flavour yogurt for the pancakes, but if you’re planning on eating it with bacon, sometimes natural is best. If you’re going to eat the pancakes with fruit, then try Yeo Valley’s raspberry flavour. It goes deliciously with maple syrup for some reason. Dollop a bit more yogurt on the top too:
150ml Yeo Valley yogurt
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
So sieve the flour and stir in the sugar (f you’re using a sweetened yogurt, cut this down to 2 level tbsp). Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs, yogurt and milk to make a thick batter.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil. Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. The first one will be a disaster, it always is, but after that you’ll get light, fluffy pancakes.
Might I add that these also make a lovely dessert, served with some boozy fruit and a big dollop of creamy Greek yogurt.
To serve your brunch, pile the table high with bowls of fruit and yogurt, piles of gorgeous pancakes, a big tray of sizzling bacon and some crusty bread. Some of Yeo Valley’s fruity favourite muffins would be an excellent addition here too.
And then it’s completely permissible to go back to bed for a little snooze. Or is that just me?
With their latest Costa-bashing adverts (placed cheekily opposite the store itself) offering coffees (eat in or take away) for just a quid, The Akeman has been putting itself out there recently. We decided to head along for breakfast to check out the hype.
First impressions are, I have to say, rather fabulous. Having only ever been there for dinner and cocktails, the place takes on a completely different vibe during the day… people were lazing in comfy leather sofas, sipping cappuccinos, and there were plenty of mums with babies sitting in the lovely courtyard garden. I love the fact that the kitchen is open so you can see exactly what’s going on:
We were seated quickly and although it was just noon, assured that it was still okay to order breakfasts. The breakfast menu isn’t massive, but it covers the basics. My three men all went for a full English, and I ordered scrambled egg and bacon. Service is efficient and really friendly. When English Dad struggled with a pepper mill, someone was at his side instantly offering to help. Juices were fresh and ice cold and the coffees were ‘terrific’, apparently (I’m not a coffee drinker).
The full English breakfasts were pronounced excellent: really decent, meaty sausages, creamy, well-seasoned scrambled egg, lovely thick-cut bacon cooked properly (how I hate flaccid bacon) and delicious mushrooms. I got all the cherry tomatoes as nobody else liked them. My own bacon and scrambled egg was delicious, although we could have done with a bit more toast all round (to be fair, we didn’t ask as our waitress had momentarily disappeared):
The bill (with coffees and a couple of fill-ups of coke) came to £34.00 – under ten quid a head for breakfast not being bad for an occasional treat, we didn’t think. We were invited to ‘tweet the boss’ with our comments, which I did, but he doesn’t look like he keeps his Twitter account up to date, which seems a bit counter-productive.
It took a while to get the bill, but both people that served us were cheerful and friendly. So, a decent brekkie all round and a solid 7/10 for the Akeman.
The Akeman is at 9 Akeman Street, Tring, Herts.
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