Category Archives: Things to do

The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott

This Bank holiday weekend I was fortunate enough to have the time to visit the Nut Tree Inn, in Murcott, Oxfordshire. after a sucessful morning in Bicester shopping village we went for a search for Murcott and the Nut Tree Inn. Murcott is only 8 miles from Bicester, just the otherside of the M40 on the way to Oxford.

This pub had been on my ‘to go to’ list for a while and this weekend there was no excuse not to pop in.

On arrival, we came to the painted white thatched pub, which had a few spaces at the front, just off the village main street. Around the back of the pub you’ll find a large car park with plenty of room for any vehical.

The Nut Tree is a pub with a Michelin Star, so I had expected to pop in for a drink in the sun and a nose at the menu for another time. The patio and garden is situated at the back of the pub, in a perfect afternoon sun spot, when we arrived the flowers were out too, thanks to the recent warm weather we had in Oxfordshire, making the garden look well cared for as well as a sun trap.

We went into the pub to order our drinks, at which point I asked to have a look at the bar menu, to see if I could be tempted by a nibble, I suspected we would cave and share something. Our drinks were brought out to our table in the sun, along with a bowl of spiced popcorn, this went down a treat.

While we soaked in the peacefulness of the countryside around us, we browsed the bar food menu. The menu offered plenty of meat fish and vegetarian options, there were starters, sandwiches, soups and various boards. We made our individual choices and ordered our mini lunch back inside at the bar, however I’m sure if we had waited someone would have come to us.

What was ordered?
Sausage and onion sandwich, on granary.
Biscuits with cheese.

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When the food arrived we were amazed at the quanity of our meals. 3 sausages halved in a sandwich per sausage, with a pile of salad and a cheese board with plenty of biscuits, which seems to be a rare treat. Next time I have my eye on their salmon.

Was it expensive?
Our lunch bill was £28, this included a glass of white wine, a pint of Pride, and two meals that left us full for the afternoon. The area was tranquil and the setting was a world away from the craze of Bicester Shopping Village, yet only an 8mile drive down the road. So I would say it was a great price for a great afternoon out.

To find the Nut Tree Inn here’s a link to their site

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A break away in Cornwall

After a holiday in Cornwall I wanted to write a blog to summarise what I’d enjoyed and tasted over the few days away.

Fishing in Cornwall – The last time I went fishing was at the Jubilee weekend, it was chilly and nothing was caught. This time in St Mawes, Cornwall, it was different. The weather was considerably warmer, which I was told is prefered by mackerel as well as humans. Our fisherman, James Brown, welcomed us onto his boat. The results of our trip were amazing: First one in was a Gurnard, bright orange and beautiful, swiftly followed by a few mackerel, then two pollock caught at once, our catch continued like this for our hour at sea. The smaller fish caught were used as lobster bait, and some of our catch was released back out to sea.

Our break away was at Pollaughan Farm, the accommodation was beautiful and in a peaceful setting. the farm offered trips round the farm to feed the animals, which suited all children and adults. On the evening of our fishing trip, Tim the farmer brought us some of his homegrown potatoes and carrots, to accompany our main course, this was all arranged by the power of twitter earlier that day! We barbecued half of our catch for the group, this had to be the most satisfying dinner of the week.

Have lunch: at the Smugglers Tea bar of Tolverne
Down a narrow windy Cornish road near the King Harry Ferry we came across this pub and tearoom, which opened out into a lovely waterside patch with views over the river Fal. The food here was varied and catered for all, including large and light lunches, as well as some scrummy looking cream teas, which I didn’t have time to try. To drink as well as a large tea selection, there was Cornish Rattler and Oxford Gold on tap.
   

Newquay and Watergate Bay:  On a day out to Newquay we stopped at Watergate bay for a drink at The Beach Hut and a great view over the beach, had it been a little warmer in the morning, we would have gone prepared and stayed on that beach all day. After our refreshing stop we moved on to Newquay for a nose to see what was there, this wasn’t my favourite stop, as it felt pretty average walking down the high street, we could have been anywhere. By the seafront we stopped at The Chy Restaurant on Beach road for some chips. The terrace was glorious in the sunshine and we were hard pushed to get a table, it certainly blew its competition out of the water. We made sure that we picked up a Cornish pasty before leaving.

     

Dine out at The Watch House in St Mawes. So lovely that we went twice. This restaurant covered two floors and catered for adults & children, offering a lovely nosey view out to sea. The restaurant was fresh and smart with it’s blue and white decor, the staff were also friendly and happy to help our group order dishes to their requirements. The seafood linguine hit the spot for me, combining fresh fish with a rich tomato sauce and good seasoning. The Fish and chips were enjoyed, with the exception of the mushy peas, as they were a touch on the sweet side, either the mint or the peas were clearly very fresh! The Seabass was presented elegantly with green beans, olives and heritage tomatoes, one of which was green. I’m told that this was delicious, it must have been as sadly I didn’t get a bite.

   

I love this part of the world, I think it’s hard to go wrong in Cornwall. I wrote this to let others know what I had found, no doubt if you go to Cornwall you will find your own great spots, pubs and restaurants, but if you come across any that I’ve mentioned here, then you’ll know what to expect and enjoy.

Brookes Supper Club at Gypsy Lane Campus

After my last supper club at Oxfork I had the bug to go to another, soon enough found another super club in Oxford at the Brookes Restaurant.

On arrival we were met by our hosts James and Sue. our coats were taken and we were offered a glass of wine, or fruit juice, a very good way of making us feel comfortable already.

The wine, fruit juice and coffee were kept on a table at the back of the restaurant along with an honesty list where guests could mark down what they had throughout the evening and pay at the end of night.

Once we were seated we waited a short while for the guest speaker to start. Homemade foccacia was served as a nibble, with oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping purposes.

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Our guest speaker was Ian Mitchell, who was talking to us about his experience as an Oxford tour guide, his new career after retirement. The customers at the Supper club had differernt levels of Oxford knowledge some of the diners shared myths, which Ian cleared up and others shared knowledge which Ian will no doubt be checking up on.

After Ian’s speech our main course was served. Risotto with chicken and seasonal vegetables for meat eaters and for the vegetarians we had the risotto topped with goats cheese, courgette, mushroom and aubergine along with seasonal vegetables. I have to say as the only veggie on the table it was served to me with no fuss, my table hadn’t realised that I’d had something different until I mentioned it. While I don’t hide my veggie-ness, I liked the way this service was done.

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Conversation increased, as the food was enjoyed and the wine was collected. Our dessert was Pear Frangipan and was served as a full tart to allow each table to self serve, making a ‘family friendly’ feel to the supper club.

The price for the night for two people was approx £25pp which included the supper club ticket at £18pp

The Oxford Brookes supper club happens on the 1st Thursday of every month. They have some bookings already for the 5th July but you should get moving before it’s too late. Augusts event will be a BBQ, a great way to spend an evening in the Oxfordshire summer, come rain or shine!

After attending two supper clubs I want to tell you three reasons why you should try a supper club in your area.

  • You’ll meet and talk with new people who live in or around your city
  • You’ll have a great meal which will most likely be well priced
  • You might try something you’ve never experienced before

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Meribel with VIP SKI – food in focus

Skiing when I went with University, was all about the slopes, the fancy dress and the après. Food was a low priority, so long as there was a fondue booked in the week, we would pick up pizzas from the local creperie and create our own creations made from anything we could pick in the supermarché. Some things haven’t changed: It’s still all about the slopes, we still need good après drinks, pizza is always a good choice and we still book a fondue once a week.

Skiing is fun, fast and energetic. If you’re gym fit this will help you enjoy your week more, but don’t shy away from the idea if you’re new and perhaps not gym fit. If anything I hope this blog might sway you to book, based on food alone!

You need to be prepared for a cold day, this year our coldest recorded was minus 29C. The energy that you burn through exercise and keeping warm means that you need good food! Pick a good resort for your skiing experience, do a bit of internet research this won’t cost you a penny. Getting good snow is dependant on your luck and possibly the resort you pick. Where you need to be picky is if you want to get good food, accommodation and a good service. This year I went with VIP SKI, again, it was my 4th year with them, which should tell you something.

The accommodation has been fantastic on all four stays, spanning two resorts and four different chalets. Select the right chalet and you can have a hot tub, balcony and ski-in, ski-out access and the après bars a short walk away. Club chalets provide that little bit extra, the main difference being the free beer fridge, as well as canapés and sparkling wine every night before dinner!

To eat: Cooked breakfasts; cake with tea and coffee for when you come in from the slopes and a three course meal for 6 of the 7 nights.
To drink: Complimentary beer and a variety of wine, red and white, during dinner.

Every morning we would come down to a table filled with multiple cereal options, (Including that lovely looking ‘dorset cereals’ cereal.) orange juice, coffee and teas and a selection of yoghurt. I must admit I opted for the same thing, most mornings: 1 poached egg, cooked tomatoes and some French bread. Finished with a yoghurt (for dessert!?). Bacon was also on offer to those who ate meat. A snap shot of our meals throughout the week, from my memory and odd notes!

Day 1:
 Arrival day Evening: On the first night we were welcomed by champagne and canapés while we all settled in to our new home for the week. The long wooden table was being set while we sipped our champagne and chatted to other guests. Main: Mushroom stroganoff or Beef stroganoff, the mushroom stroganoff had a delicious rich sauce and plenty of mushrooms Dessert: Tequila lime pie this was served with an optional shot of Tequila to hit the spot.

Day 2: We went guiding with the chalets ski host & Guide, club chalets are usually quite large and have their own personal guide. If you don’t know your resort and you’re a confident skier then I would highly recommend this. The guides usually take you somewhere good for lunch too.
Guiding Lunch: We went to an Australian bar/restaurant where they had recently celebrated Australia day, half way up the mountain! Around the table, we had: Veggie burger & frites; 2 xcheeseburger & frites; Tartiflette, Omlette with ham, cheese and onion; A large salad with hot goats cheese (chevre chaud) and a lasagne.
Evening: Canapés and sparkling wine.
Starter: Spicy butternut squash soup – this was tasty on the butternut side but not as spicy as I would have made for myself, then again if it was too spicy it may have not been for all 18 guests.
Main: Spinach and cheese pancake or duck. The creamy sauce made my pancake rich but not stodgy. The duck was well cooked to everyone’s satisfaction this dish was definitely a winner.
Dessert: Bread and Butter pudding

Day 3:
Guiding Lunch: Where we ate: La Caudanne. Around the table we had: Reblochon and walnut salad with frites; Camembert box and meats on the board – this looked fantastic, but was certainly for the hungry, with a three course dinner on the horizon I paced myself; Lasagne, Macaroni cheese. And Italian beer!? I’m not complaining as I like Peroni however we were in France!
Evening: Canapés: fig and blue cheese wrapped in bacon or without bacon if you are a vegetarian, these were delicious! &sparkling wine. 
Starter: Tomato and goats cheese tart
Main: Sea Bass, this dish was the one I was most looking forward too. Possibly because I hadn’t eaten fish since Friday and I was really missing it after 3 days.
Dessert: Summer fruit pudding, this was my favourite dessert!

Day 4
Lunch: Where we ate: Val Thoren: Vegetarian pizza and a Heineken. At the start of the week we knew that our hosts would take a night off, so this was the time to book our fondue restaurant! I would suggest getting the hosts recommendations, after all they have been out in the resort since December!
Evening: Chez Kiki in #Meribel for Fondue, this included being told by the French chef that we needed to stir more, adjust our flame and basically do a fondue right! Somehow we had room for a dessert, clearly our appetite had adjusted during the week!
But despite this the restaurant was perfect, it was 30 years old, with wooden beams, it had 3 levels within the restaurant. It was heaving with fellow skiers, whose hosts had the night off, including a child who had fallen asleep at the head of the table before the adults’ main courses had been ordered!
  

Day 5:
 Le menuieres Snack: chocolate chaud, and chocolate chaud Chantilly, I ordered this for entertainment as the wipped cream that was piled on the top was deeper than the cup itself.
Evening: Canapés: smoked salmon blinis Starter rare beef salad or Mushroom and garlic on toast
Main: salmon steak or lamb cutlets, the salmon was well cooked and was bought by the chalet hosts with me in mind apparently, which I think goes to show the effort the hosts go to for their guests.
Dessert: wine poached pear
  

Day 6:
 Courchevel Lunch: Courchevel 1850 Ku DE TA: What we ate: l’ocean pizza (salmon) and a medium beef burger with tasty chips and two beers €58 
  

Evening
: Canapés: Camembert starter with crudités! Hmm good for minus 22 conditions!
Starter: My first Onion soup of the week, and it was worth the wait!
Main: Thai green curry was the vegetarian option, in my opinion this was a dish that fell a bit flat, and it wasn’t the best match against the meat eaters massive steak, which seemed to go down very well throughout the chalet guests.
Dessert: Chocolate torte, this was as a chocolate torte should be: Chocolatey and rich, a great end to our week of many meals.

 
So if my snapshot of our menu and VIP experience appeals and you have pictured yourself in a chalet for a week at all during this blog, then take a look online and eye up your next ski trip. http://www.vip-chalets.com/

Cakes and courses

What seems like many years ago I went along to the Orchards School of Cookery to do the residential Designer Dinners for Beginners course. It was a fantastic week and I would (and have!) recommend it to anyone that has spoken to me about any cookery courses. This one is located in Evesham, Worcestershire, less than 2hrs from the city centre of Oxford and in a lovely setting, on their farm.

The courses they run are on their website: http://www.orchardscookery.co.uk
Chalet Cooks

Designer Dinners for Beginners
Off to University
Corporate Days
One and Two Day Courses

Cakes are something that I had never really got into making for friends or work colleagues. It wasn’t that I couldn’t, but I just always thought ‘what a faff!’ until I came away from the Orchards Cookery course. I wouldn’t say that I make loads of cakes now, (not great for the waistline!) but I’m happy to volunteer my cake making skills to the office and birthdays, more than I would have done in the past!
Here is a sneak peak of the life of making a simple tasty cake.
First start with the standard recipe then add in most of the ‘changes’ to stage 2,  you really need the book that you can get when you go to the course, to get the full break down, but I will share the one that I took into work this week with you.

This is the recipe that I follow for all my cakes:

Standard Cake
This is the standard cake recipe. Additional ingredients can be used to make a variety of different cakes

Ingredients:

170g soft marg
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1tbsp hot water

Recipe
Preheat the oven 180C,350F
1 Line the base of two 18-20cm cake tins using greaseproof paper cut to size. Grease the sides with Butter.

2 Beat all the ingredients in a large bowl (or food processor) add a little hot water if the mix is too thick

3 Divide the mixture between the cake tins and spread evenly

4 Bake in the oven for 25-35 mins until golden (don’t open the oven during the first 20 mins, as it affects the rising of the cake) To see if the cake is cooked stick a skewer in the middle and make sure there is no mixture on the skewer.

5 When the cake has cooled slightly, slide a spatula around the cake to loosen it from the tin and turn out on a cooling rack.

6 Peel off the paper from the base of the cake and allow to cool before icing. Butter icing filling goes in between the two cakes, for most of the cake ‘styles’ in the book.

The other day I made Raspberry Jam and chocolate cake for the office, following the standard recipe mentioned above plus the following key ingredients below:
(I admit that it should have been black cherry jam, but the local garage only had raspberry!)

Raspberry and  Chocolate Cake
Ingredients
225g Jam
100g plain chocolate and a little extra to decorate
milk

Recipe
1 Melt the chocolate with a few drops of milk and allow to cool slightly

2 Make the standard cake, adding the chocolate and jam to the mixture at stage 2.

Scatter grated chocolate of the warm cake, or dust with icing sugar and chocolate shavings.

The book contains everything that you learn on the course plus more!
Isabel and her family make you feel very welcome and run a well oiled ship, for more information on the courses, visit the website: www.orchardscookery.co.uk