REVIEW: Lunch at Portland Hall Spa

spa pic

Each year, I go away for one night with my mum and my sister. We usually look for a Groupon deal for a spa break and my sister and I pay for this as a treat to my mum for Mother’s Day. This year, we were all in need of more of a break than ever. Both my sister and I are busy with our own businesses and we have seven children between us. All three of us have been impacted by the death of my father earlier in the year. This year, we headed off to Southport to stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel and spend a day at the Portland Hall Spa Hotel. 

We had picked up a package for a Mother’s Day treat at Portland Hall Spa. This included a back and neck massage, a full facial and the option of either a head massage or a leg massage. The deal also included a two-course lunch. As this is a food website, it is the food that I will focus on in this post (although I have to say that the treatments were excellent!).

Starters at Portland Hall Spa

All three of us chose different starters which makes for a better review! My mum opted for the chicken skewers which came in a tasty coating and with a sauce that was similar to hoisin, but a bit sweeter. She said the chicken was tender and I had a taste of her sauce with some of her salad garnish and it was delicious. 

My sister opted for the vegetarian tart, which was described as being made with goats cheese and caramelised onion. I had expected this to come as a small, round pastry casing with caramelised onion on the bottom, topped with goats cheese. However, this was not the case. It was a slice cut from a larger tart and my sister passed me a taste across the table. It looked a bit like quiche and certainly had the same sort of eggy texture but had the consistency of a sponge cake. I wasn’t keen on the dish as it was not what I had expected but my sister enjoyed it.

My choice was the homemade pate served with wholemeal toast. It arrived with the pate served in a small pot and was one of the best pates I have ever eaten. It was rich and meaty with a nice consistency and texture. I was initially disappointed that there was no butter to go with the toast, but I really didn’t need it. I spread the caramelised onion that was served with this starter over the toast and then added the pate.

Main Courses at Portland Hall Spa

Again, we all ordered something different. For her main, my sister chose the tossed spaghetti. This was a less creamy version of carbonara as it had pancetta, mushrooms, and Parmesan. I didn’t taste this dish personally, but it looked nice and my sister enjoyed it. The spaghetti looked like it had been cooked perfectly. I have a thing about soggy spaghetti!

My mum decided to order the chicken stroganoff with rice. The rice was served in a separate bowl with the rice on the side. This was a dish she thoroughly enjoyed as the chicken was still moist and the sauce was thick and luscious. It was made with wholegrain mustard, so it was spotted with the seeds. 

After my enjoyment of the starter, I was thoroughly looking forward to my main. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. I chose the vegetable bake, which was described as layers of aubergines and tomatoes, topped with Mozzarella. First things first, there were slices of aubergine and it was topped with Mozzarella, so this part of the description was correct.

Unfortunately, there were no tomatoes in the dish. There were some courgettes at the bottom, which was a bonus as I love courgettes. However, I had been looking forward to the tang that tomatoes give a dish and this was missing. My other criticism was that this was a pasta dish and there was no mention of pasta on the menu. The aubergines were layered between sheets of pasta and topped with a bechamel sauce. It should really have been written as aubergine lasagne. However, I must add that it was perfectly well cooked, it was just not what I wanted or had expected. 

Drinks

There was some pretense that we were being healthy by attending a spa, so we ordered a jug of water. Unfortunately, we also ordered a jug of sangria to accompany our meal (well, we only do this once a year!). It was fruity, alcoholic, delicious and the perfect accompaniment to what was, for the most part, a good meal.

The menu has changed every year I have been, so no doubt I will have some different dishes to describe next year. Although I had a few minor issues, these related more to the descriptions of the food than the quality or flavour. 

 

 

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The Unusual Diet of The Inuit People Living in the Frigid Zone

Inuit

The Frigid Zone is the area including and surrounding the Arctic, that encompasses Alaska, Greenland and the most northern parts of Canada. This part of the world has a very low population and is only inhabited by the Inuit people. Due to the cold climate and the sparse environment, the Inuit have a very unusual diet.

Traditionally, the Inuit are hunters and fishers who eat only what they can catch themselves. They have no access to grocery stores and eat only what is naturally available. This results in a somewhat limited diet of seal, whale, reindeer, birds, and seafood. Their diet is almost carbohydrate-free and fruit and vegetables are generally limited to seaweed, tubers, and berries that are gathered during the season and then preserved. 

With all the hype about eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, this lack of carbohydrates and fresh fruit and vegetables may seem concerning. It makes sense to believe that a diet that is so protein-rich would potentially cause health problems.

However, studies have shown that this is not the case. Despite what most would consider a very poor diet, the Inuit enjoy extremely good health and research shows that they are accessing all the vitamins and minerals they need to maintain good health. 

Written in response to the Daily Prompt ‘Frigid’ on The Daily Post.

WATCH: The Amazing School Meals in Japan

Japanese school dinners

When I was at school (some time ago now) the school dinners were dreadful. We were served tasteless slop and there are many foods that I still will not eat based on my experiences at school; custard is one of them. I just came across this amazing video on a social media site that shows how Japanese school dinners are served and wanted to share it straight away. I truly believe that schools from across the globe should follow the lead of the Japanese based on this video content. 

First, the children plan their school meals and then study the nutritional value of the meals and the cultural significance of the dishes. Next, they take turns to serve the meals to their peers. Many of the meals are made from produce grown on the school farm. Therefore, the meals are made from fresh seasonal produce, are healthy and delicious. The video shows some of the meals they eat and also mentions that the Japanese have one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in the world and that their school meals are one of the reasons for this.

At the end of meal time, the children thank their servers and clean the dining hall. They consider their dinnertime to be part of their education rather than a break from their education. They are taught to have respect, manners, and pride in their school. I was particularly interested in this as I worked for many years in the Learning Support Faculty of a secondary school. I volunteered to do dinner duties. This involved supervising the dining hall. From my own experiences in the UK, the school children did not show the same level of pride in their school and were generally unwilling to tidy away after themselves.

Take a look at the video below and feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Bacon Barm Debate

bacon butty

I was writing a post about bacon for someone’s website this morning and it got me thinking about the age-old bacon barm debate. I am from Lancashire, England, and the image above shows what we call a bacon barm. ‘The word ‘barm’ is an abbreviation of barmcake. Most people in Lancashire would refer to having a bacon barm for their breakfast rather than using any other terminology. However. people from other areas of the country are not familiar with this vernacular and use a variety of other words to describe this delicious snack and, in most cases, I disagree with their choice of words.

I particularly don’t like it when people refer to having a bacon muffin. Surely a muffin is a cake? Similarly, I dislike the use of the term bacon bap. This is mainly because baps is a slang term for women’s breasts in the UK. Another poor option is bacon bun. I was brought up to call small fairy cakes buns, so this doesn’t seem right either. In some parts of the country, they refer to it as a bacon teacake. Where I am from, a teacake is a sweet bread with currents that is toasted and served dripping in butter. 

The two that I can understand and don’t mind hearing are bacon roll and bacon sandwich. However, I do still have an issue with these and it specifically relates to the type of bread used. To me, a bread roll is much firmer and smaller than a barmcake. People use the word sandwich as a general term to describe bread with a filling. I would argue that a sandwich is made using two slices of bread from a loaf.

I had to get this off my chest. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands this morning. What do you call a bacon barm?

5 of the Best Varieties of French Cheese

Image result for french cheese

France is famous for many things including its wine production, the Eiffel tower and its beautiful countryside.  However, it is also famous for its diverse production of cheeses.  In fact, France produces over four hundred different cheeses which are generally categorised into eight different groups.  To review all the cheeses that are produced in France would require extensive knowledge, research and time.  However, here is a summary of five of the most famous and delicious varieties of cheese that are produced in France and enjoyed around the world.

Brie

brie

This is a soft cheese made from cow’s milk that is generally produced in the Île-de-France region, specifically Brie after which it is named.  The cheese is encased in a soft dough crust and has a creamy and smooth consistency and flavour.  Variations of this cheese are Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun.  Brie is made in large, round discs and the buyer will normally purchase just a slice of this.

Camembert

camembert

Another soft cheese that is most associated with the Normandy region of France, also from cow’s milk.  Similarly to Brie, the cheese is encased in a soft, edible crust and has a smooth and creamy taste and texture.  In contrast to Brie, Camembert is ripened in smaller cases which give it a slightly different flavour and it is often sold still in its small, wooden casings.

Munster

munster

This is a strong flavoured soft cheese that was named after the town in which it was originally produced.  This cheese was also originally conserved and preserved in monk’s cellars.  There are also several different variations of this cheese which are produced industrially oversees, some of which have a milder flavour.

Roquefort

Roquefort_Cheese_Grenoble

The thing that makes this cheese unique is that it is produced from sheep’s milk and is linked to the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.  This is one of the world’s best known blue cheeses, alongside stilton and Gorgonzola.  Although it is referred to as a blue cheese, the veins of mould which run through it are actually green.  Roquefort can be described as being crumbly and moist, with a slightly tangy and salty flavour.  In English, this cheese is sometimes spelled as Rochefort.

Langres 

langres

Langres is a cheese made from cow’s milk in the Champagne region of France. It is a brine-coated cheese that is creamy and oozing in the centre. This makes it perfect for mopping up with chunks of fresh bread. It has quite a strong aroma but is certainly not in the league of ‘smelly feet’ cheese. 

Eating Habits in America in the 1900s

immigration

During the 1900s there were many changes to the foods that Americans ate in comparison to the Victorian era.  Many factors influenced these changes.  Here is an overview of the factors that influenced the food that was eaten in America during the 1900s.

Immigration

There was a great deal of immigration of people from all over the globe during this period.  They introduced new concepts, flavours, spices and ingredients that were not commonly used in American cooking or were never used. Majority of these immigrants moved to urban areas of America and some chose to set up businesses, often restaurants.  This brought multi-cultural food to the general public. For example, during the early twentieth century, many people came from Italy to America.  In 1905 in New York City, the first ever Italian Pizzeria was opened. 

Government Intervention

In 1906, the US government introduced the Food and Drugs Act.  This meant that all meat products were inspected as part of Federal Law.  Also, adulterated products could not be manufactured, sold or transported in America.

Home Economics Education

During the Victorian era, there was a huge push on educating young women in home economics and nutrition science, with the aim of improving people’s knowledge of health and nutrition.  This education continued into the early twentieth century and influenced ideas about food preparation, the use of ingredients and food safety. Many women who had studied the subject at school went out into the community to work closely with families, particularly those who were poor, to share their knowledge and educate others. 

Science and Technology

One of the greatest factors that changed the ways that Americans ate between 1900 and 1910 was the innovations of science and technology.  It was no longer necessary to eat only seasonal food as it could now be shipped in from other areas or grown in America.  The advances came in the form of increased transportation, better food preservation and improved food storage options.  The introduction of electricity in urban homes around this time also influenced how people stored and prepared their meals.

Business Expansion

During the 1900’s, the American market became flooded with new businesses and brands that were supplying food for the masses.  Many of these came in the form of tinned/ canned or dried foods.  Major names that came into play during this era, and are still well known today, include Quaker Oats and Campbell’s.

REVIEW: Cafe Rouge, York

cafe rouge

I recently booked a night away in York with my partner and without our children. One of the things I was looking forward to the most was our evening meal as I had been told the options for eating out were excellent and there are many outstanding restaurants in York. Having never visited this city before, I wanted to take my time choosing where to eat so we took a stroll through the city centre reading menus as we went along and looking into the restaurants trying to find somewhere with a good atmosphere. We finally returned almost to the beginning of our trek to eat at one of the first restaurants we had seen- Cafe Rouge.

The Venue

A French bistro called Cafe Rouge at The Adams House, 52 Lower Petergate, Low Petergate, York YO1 7HZ

Ambience

One of the reasons we choose this restaurant was because there were plenty of others eating there. We had walked past many restaurants that were large and almost empty. This was not the ambiance we were looking for to enjoy a romantic meal. Cafe Rouge was welcoming and warm, which was just what we needed on a cold January night. There was a mix of couples and families ranging in age, so we felt this would be a comfortable place to eat.

Starters

I opted for the breaded camembert which was served with a cranberry and redcurrant sauce. The melted cheese was delicious and my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of the tangy sauce. My partner opted for an unusual starter which is something he had never tried before. Eggs meurette is a poached egg served with a red wine, bacon, and mushroom sauce and accompanied by chargrilled sourdough bread. He said it made a nice change from the usual starters he orders.

Main Courses

Rather unpredictably, we both ordered the 8oz sirloin steak, his cooked rare and mine cooked medium. These were served with frites and we paid extra for a peppercorn sauce each and a house salad. The steaks were cooked to perfection and were exceptionally tender. The sauce, although not much of it, had just the right amount of kick and was not too creamy as is the case with many peppercorn sauces. My one very minor complaint was that the house salad we ordered as a side dish to share was tiny and basically consisted of a quartered tomato with a few green leaves drizzled with sauce. 

Desserts

I didn’t really have room for a dessert but as this was a special treat, I decided to have one. We had looked at the set menu when we had arrived and the desserts looked delicious. However, we had decided to order off the main menu. When we asked for a dessert menu, it consisted of completely different desserts from the set menu. My partner called the waiter and asked if we could choose a dessert from the set menu and he reassured us that this was fine. We both opted for the chocolate torte served with a vanilla creme fraiche. It was absolutely divine! 

Service

Our waiter was called Raffa (apologies if the spelling of his name is incorrect!) and he was welcoming and courteous as soon as we arrived. He even put two tables together as we had ordered side dishes so we would have more room for our food. He was attentive when needed but disappeared when we were enjoying our meals and conversation. He was especially accommodating with regards to our request about the dessert menu. At the end of the meal, we were asking him about the area and for recommendations of places to enjoy a drink where there was a good atmosphere. He was very chatty and helpful. 

Cost

The prices at Cafe Rouge were a little more than I am usually willing to pay, but this was a special treat. If you look at the online menu there are no prices on it and there is a reason for this, I suspect. The cost of a very average bottle of cabernet sauvignon was £22 before we even started on the food. However, looking at other venues in York, it is quite a pricey place to eat out no matter which venue you choose. The total cost of the meal came to just short of £92 for the two of use. Was it worth the cost? Just about!

Overall Rating

four stars

Overall, I would give Cafe Rouge in York a four out of five-star rating. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and there was a great atmosphere. There were just a few minor points that let it down, such as the cost, the tiny side salad and the lack of sauce. Other than that, I would highly recommend this restaurant.