I came home last week to a rather handsome but somewhat surprising sight. A huge soggy cardboard box of what turned out to be Victoria Plums. Evidently during a recent alcohol infused camping trip I had egged on fellow outdoor chum Keith that I would have all the plums he could muster from his new back garden. So of I went, a plum crumble, stewed plums and cream and finally a couple of batches of plum jam. I’ve only ever made marmalade (see link) but never made jam so the challenge was set. A quick flick on the Country Life website sent me to the following instructions. The result was rather wonderful. 1kg of fruit produced about four jars of the jewelled stickiness. The process is simple and the results seemingly easy to replicate. As a bonus it goes great with my soda bread recipe here.
1 kilo freshly picked plums (halved and stoned)
225 mls water
700 grams caster sugar
Simmer the plums over a mid heat for 20 minutes until the plums are soft and the skin has started to loosen. Make sure you put the water in as well. You don’t want your plums to catch on the hot pan. You’ll end up scraping them with a Brillo pad or the back of a knife!
The plums getting stoned and halved
Whilst this is simmering pop the sugar into the oven to heat up, this will prevent it from crystallising when you add it to the plums. I missed this step one time and it didn’t seem to have any noticeable effect.
After simmering add the caster sugar and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved completely. It is very important that no sugar crystals are left in the jam. You can test this by coating the back of a wooden spoon with the mixture, you will be able to see if the sugar has not dissolved.
Turn the heat up and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. I had it on a ‘rolling boil’ so,it wouldn’t boil over. Spoon a little jam onto a cold plate and when the jam cools, push with your finger to see if a crinkly skin has formed, this means it has set, if not, just continue boiling.
Whilst the jam is boiling, don’t be put off by the scum which may appear, a small amount of butter added to the cooling mixture will get rid of most of it. You can skim any remaining off with a spoon.
Leave to cool for 15minutes and pour into hot sterilised jars. Cover with a waxed disk and screw the lid on tightly.
Tip: a simple way to sterilise jars, pour a small amount of water into the jars and boil in the microwave for a couple of minutes.
Place your jams in the larder for a taste of summer on a winter morning.
I love bread, but the anti carb Gestapo tend to steer me away from it. It’s become a rare treat! Still every now and again I reach for this old favourite that I first saw Hugh Fearnely Whittingstall do on one of his River cottage programmes. This soda bread recipe is fail safe, always works and I vary it for good measure. The recipe makes a decent medium loaf which me and the flame can demolish over a weekend.
* 500g plain flour (I sometimes do 250g whole meal, 250g plain)
* 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
* 1 tsp fine sea salt * Approx. 400ml buttermilk or live yoghurt (I just use Greek low fat yoghurt, seems to work!)
* A little milk, if necessary
For a variation, I add various type of seeds to the dry mix. A tsp of fennel gives good flavour, but don’t overdue it. I’ve even added dry herbs which doesn’t seem to upset things.
1. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yoghurt, stirring as you go. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of milk to bring the mixture together; it should form a soft dough, just this side of sticky. It is quite claggy and sticks to your fingers.
2. Tip it out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute, just long enough to pull it together into a loose ball but no longer – you need to get it into the oven while the bicarb is still doing its stuff. You’re not looking for the kind of smooth, elastic dough you’d get with a yeast-based bread.
3. Put the round of dough on a lightly floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Mark a deep cross in it with a sharp, serrated knife, cutting about two-thirds of the way through the loaf. Put it in an oven preheated to 200oC/gas mark 6 and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
4. Cool on a wire rack if you like a crunchy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel if you prefer a soft crust. Soda bread is best eaten while still warm, spread with salty butter and/or a dollop of your favourite jam. But if you have some left over the next day, it makes great toast.
Variation: I add seeds to the dry mix. A suggestion is to mix together 2 tablespoons each of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, poppy and linseeds, plus 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds; set aside. Follow the main recipe but use half white flour and half wholemeal flour. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds to the dry ingredients before proceeding as above. After cutting a cross in the top of the loaf, brush it with a little buttermilk or ordinary milk and sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Bake at 200oC/gas mark 6 for 40–45 minutes.
We ventured as a foursome to the gritty, northern town of Bury. I say gritty, but an afternoon stroll revealed it to in fact be pretty heftily furnished with colourful blooms. Maybe it’s upping its game? We were loosely celebrating a special birthday. A quick tour of the market, a black pudding, a pint in the ‘The Two Tubs’ before an afternoon relax at ‘The Rostrevor’ hotel.
Suitably spruced, we set out once again to take our place on ‘The Red Rose Diner’, a steam hauled dining train which is birthed at the rather excellent ‘East Lancashire Railway’. We are promised a step into a world of vintage glamour and sophistication with an ultimate foodie experience.
Well first things first. This little jaunt has a rather fortuitous starting post. It resides right next to ‘The Trackside’ pub. The pub itself is set in former railway buildings on the platform at Bury Bolton Street station. It’s mission appears to be to offer more real ales than any other pub I’ve ever been. I think it is succeeding. The place was packed with locals and Red Rose customers alike. A pint of ‘Piston Broke’ was ordered to oil the cook twit pipes. The platform remained a thriving sea of well stocked eggs, ready to take their place on the chocolate and cream diner.
Once ensconced into our romantic four berth booth we quickly got on with sorting out the next round of booze. My hawk eyed celebrant and partner had picked up on the sensational note that your own grape juice could be brought on board. A couple of ‘bots’ of Tuscany’s finest was acquired from the local M&S. The less hawk eyed had failed to pick up on the £7.50 corkage fee (or screw top removal fee!), thus rendering any monetary gain as negligible. Still it was good plonk.
With the vino sorted we were then presented with a goblet of bubbly to quaff with our first course of Galia melon complete with a couple of spoonfuls of forest fruits. If I was being picky, the melon was a tad ripe for me and was for all practical purposes impenetrable using the prescribed, humble teaspoon. However I persevered and at least achieved a cleansing of the palate. It looked good though, as with everything here it was presented with elegance and elan. By this time the train had chuffed nonchalantly from its sidings and hit the Irwell straight at a heady 25mph.
Next up the soup course. This was a much better effort for me. Mushroom and stilton soup. The flame was perturbed, her least favourite soup, not sure where the stilton was but there was plenty of earthy mushrooms on offer. It tasted wonderful and had a proper mushroom colour too. The loco had rested by now on the spectacular Sommerseat Viaduct, offering stunning but ever darkening views of the river beneath.
The more experienced waiting operatives shimmered in and out from service like an expectant Jeeves whilst the young helpers fluttered around. The service was all rather pleasant. Young and old alike providing the food and unscrewing the wine top. The mains were up next. The hot plate presented first with a piping hot, herb crusted cod. A decent wedge too. The young flutterers lined up to add the basic veg of carrots and green beans along with Lyonnais potatoes and roast potatoes. I think we managed to acquire a fairly exclusive romesco sauce to add piquancy and moisture. Considering the obvious kitchen constraints the food was presented very well and arrived piping hot. It was tasty too. A further rest on Ramsbottom station afforded the neat idea that we were truly living in the vintage past. Some old cases were piled up on the platform.
The train wended its way further up the line towards Rawtenstall where the fine crimson steed was allowed to rest and slink back from the front to restart the non stop rumble back. A dessert of creme brûlée and a shortbread biscuit sweetened the occasion washed up with a decent coffee and mints.
Some three hours later we found ourselves back at The Trackside for a nightcap. The whole shebang had notched up a fee of £44 each. A bit pricey? Perhaps, but presumably we were adding some coinage to keep this wonderful locomotive and it’s rolling stock in the gleaming condition it was in. It’s all kept together by the honest toil of enthusiastic volunteers. If I’m honest the actual food bit was nothing too special. Very Good? yes, exceptional? Not really. Compared to a decent, contemporary restaurant it was left a bit wanting. It was a basic menu with no choice, but it was served beautifully, and was nice and hot. The Red Rose dining experience is all about the setting and the drama of travelling by steam and recreating the heady decadence of a time gone by. It does that in spades.
Red Rose Diners are the ultimate dining experience, perfect for romantic meals and friendly get-togethers. Red Rose Diners run on selected Fridays and Saturdays between February and November.
“Another quality addition to Nigel Haworth’s Ribble Valley Pub Chain”
I’ve always had a soft spot for the RVI pubs. Ever since The flame treated me to an overnight sesh at Northcote Manor we have kept a keen eye on developments of the Northcote offshoots. There are five now. From “The Three Fishes”, reviewed previously here to “The Bull at Broughton”. The original four are dotted up North in the bowels of Lancashire (although one strays close to Yorkshire!). The Nags Head at Haughton is the first excursion into deepest Cheshire. And blimey it is an excursion as well. It was labelled as Tarpoley, but it seems a fair few more miles before you hit Haughton. Mind you it’s a handsome sight as the sat nav informs you that you have finally made it.
This is what the term “quintessential rural country pub” was invented for. A soft timbered, red tiled dwelling surrounded by greenery and gravel. A vast outdoor seating area dominates to the right as you enter. The weather was a little mixed when The Flame and I rocked up. I could imagine on a barmy summers eve the garden could be a thriving village with its own name! It was a wet Sunday Lunch when we turned in. We had booked a table for two at two on the efficient website. It’s only been open a few months, I reckon the place was half full, but by the time we left it had swelled considerably. A good sign.
Spot The Dead parrot! Nice plumage.
It’s fairly clear some serious wedge has left the wallet of the RVI encumbents. A substantial, mock tudor hangar has been grafted on to the original modest dwelling. Some of the timbers looked real! The decor and fittings are all top notch. The colour scheme and material selection is exactly how you would never do it at home, but somehow it works. A complete mismatch of materials, colours and patterns, fused by the dominance of petrol blue and cream. I even think there was a dead parrot on one of the fabrics. It had nice plumage anyway. The tables and chairs are smart, contemporary, comfortable and well sized for the job in hand.
More Interior design
So what about the grub. Well as I say it was a Sunday lunch menu, printed neatly black on white. I’ve don’t recall a bad course at an RVI. The closest I’ve been was probably here for my starter. Pigeon, black pudding Kiev, with pickled carrot and a few other bits and pieces. The expectant ooze of buttery garlic failed to materialise. I was left with a rather dry fork of gamey flesh. It was marginally moistened and enhanced when matched with a morsel of soused carrot. It was fairly good but no where near as good as The Flames’ chargrilled sardines on sourdough toast and a rafagado sauce. Thankfully the flame quickly realised this was a significant portion and slapped a quarter of the feast on to my plate. Blimey this was good, real quality. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Sardines, the brew, drinks, pigeon kiev
For mains the flame again came up trumps. A staggering goosnargh chicken leg and ham pie with peas, beans and lettuce. Served with an element of drama it came with the leg bone protruding through the top. It looked superb and when opened up it looked even better. Plenty of salty ham, clung together with a hint of tarragon cream. It was delish. The flame complained of a soggy bottom but I told her to carry on with the exercises, I’m sure it will tighten up (she meant the pie! – Ed). Again such was the portion size that I managed a few fork fulls. A truly handsome plate of food.
Amazing chicken ham pie, a decent hake and chips
I played too safe. Battered Hake and real dripping cooked chips, homemade tartare sauce and crushed garden peas. Beautifully cooked and presented it tasted great as expected, but I must admit I had an envious glance at the next table who had the Sunday roast. Some corking slabs of aged Angus rump. That really did look well. They even took a photo of it. How sad is that? I’ll be back for some of that.
Handsome bar, fancy toilet tiles!
For research purposes I had a chocolate sundae, largely to try the ice cream from Ginger Comforts. It was rather splendid and finished off a fine meal.
Chocolate Sundae, menu, gun table
So there you have it. Nigel and the Ribble Valley Inn chain have moved south and into Cheshire. The Sunday lunch cost £21 for the three courses. A couple of quid over some I suppose but getting your ingredients from local artisans such as the Cheshire Smokehouse don’t come cheap. Let’s hope it’s the first of a few more. It’s a bit of a trek for some but I think it’s worth it. Recommended.
Like most provincial communities, my home town of Newton-le-Willows has succumbed to the rising influence of the great British curry. A veritable phalanx of spicy food emporiums have come and gone. That said a good number have been here a good while now. “The Fort of India”, “Balti Towers”, “Shajahan”, “Belash” to name but a few, have seemingly found a niche in the local gastronomic scene. However, theres a new kid in town, ‘Amans’ has rooted a dark almost satanic frontage smack bang in the middle of (a faintly resurgent) Newton High Street.
It has an even more imposing gaff a few miles away down the East Lancs at Astley. On that occasion the old “Queens Arms” succumbed, at Newton it was merely a solicitor that went pop! (I think!). Amans it seems is taking over the North West with Congleton, Lowton and Bramhall either fallen or next in line.
So what’s it like? It’s pretty good really. I could stop there but I won’t (groan – Ed). I feel I should set this review in context. Owing to The flames virtual intolerance of Indian food it is very rare The Cooktwit gets to indulge in the fruits of Indian cuisine. That said, out with the boys a few months back I had a glorious meal at Mughli on the curry mile in Manchester which was sensational and is reviewed here on the blog, Amans has a tough benchmark to match.
As I have mentioned black is the main colour, helped along by a purple neon edge. Long gone are the mismatched tables and paper tablecloths. New Indian restaurants nowadays endeavour to ooze sophistication. Amans is no different. As it’s new it is smart. A purple backed, fret cut, wall matrix serving as the feature backdrop. A bizarre wall of plaster ceiling roses forming the way up the stairs to the upper floor and the loos.
Believe it or not The Flame was here on this occasion. Along with six others we were celebrating the flight of leading nephew Ben as he bolts off to China on a teaching shindig. A ‘swifty’ in the Pied Bull across the road meant at least one decent pint could be had before I had to have Kingfisher! As is the norm in most Indian restaurants, Amans present us with a luxurious, metallic, golden tome. It takes hours to get through. In my eyes it presents the first negative comparison with Mughli. Their entire menu is presented on the side of one card. It is the work of a moment to select your meal.
With the miriad of dishes and sauces on offer I am reminded of the TV programme ‘The Restaurant Man’. If you are not familiar, the premise being that a handsome cove, well versed in what makes a successful foodie joint work, trots round to would be owners and tells them where it’s all going wrong. One episode featured some good natured Asian ladies who had the laudable idea of cooking and selling real Indian food, just as their grandma had taught them. The snag had been how they could create their wonderful dishes to the scale they needed to make some cash. A head chef was hired. He immediately purchased a huge vat and an industrial ‘whizzer’ in order to create huge quantities of the ‘base’ sauce. Every dish would therefore start off as this but then have a little something extra added just prior to service to create a ‘different’ dish. It was incredibly off putting for me. Im not saying Amans do this but I sense many Indian restaurants do this in order to service these vast offerings.
I digress though. In order to make sure my experience of Amans is not tainted, the flame and I opt from the non standard half of the menu. It makes a pleasing change. I go for ‘Tahori Fish’ to start, pieces of seabass in a light batter (£4.95). Two pieces of beautifully cooked fish, marred slightly by the appalling effort of a garnish. Why restaurants think we diners appreciate scrags of limp lettuce, a shred of onion and an olive is beyond me, but it seems to be ‘de rigeur’ in some places. The flame trooped home in first place with some stunning pieces of chicken. Called ‘MalayTikka’ (£4.25) Tender pieces of chicken marinated with mayonnaise, ground almond, ground spices and natural yoghurt. I managed a morsel and have to say it was superb and moist. The salad was from the same pot as mine! Sadly I didn’t manage to get a pic as she had wolfed it in no time.
For mains we again went off beam and came up trumps. The flame probably won again ‘Pangash Biraan’ (£10.25) described as white fish fillet marinated with medium spices and lightly pan fried, served with sauteed onions, red and green peppers, spring onion and garnished with lemon and coriander. The fish was superb, beautifully cooked with a light spicy, seasoned coat. The flame had to shove the mound of onions off to one side (there was no peppers or spring onion garnish) but other than she said she would come again just for this. Can’t say fairer than that. The same scraggy garnish made it to the plate! I went for a ‘Lamb Chop Balti’ (a slightly whopping £11.45, but boy this was good. Five, tender chops wonderfully cooked in a rich tasty sauce. They were very pleasant. I left a mound of dry bones and mopped up the sauce with some boiled rice and a chapati. The desserts on offer were the usual freezer based ice creams, no ‘Rasmalai’ I’m afraid. At least the well turned out waiters laughed when I asked for it!
I’d have to say we all enjoyed it. The place was packed out. The service was efficient and friendly, giving us just the right amount of gap between courses. We certainly weren’t rushed. As a standard Indian restaurant it was very good. A few Indian pale ales wouldn’t go amiss to top up the Kingfisher and the cans of ‘Tetley Smooth!’
If you’re in Newton le Willows and want an Indian you really couldn’t beat it. It is probably the best Indian in Newton! But, if you want to try something a little different and have the time I would see if Mughli have a table and get the next train to Oxford Road, then a £5 taxi to Rusholme. Explore the simple menu and enjoy. It cost us £50 a couple at Amans. I reckon you wouldn’t spend much more going down the curry mile. A welcome addition to Newton though. We will go back (if they let me!).