Our stay at Hand and Flowers, Marlow

Hand & Flowers

With last year’s summer holiday being The Budget Midlands Staycation™ and the chance of us having a summer holiday this year being very slim, we’ve decided to take foodie mini-breaks instead. First was back in November and the turn of Oxford Malmaison & Le Manoir; this time was the turn of Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers in Berkshire.

Now you’re probably asking how on earth did I manage to bag a room and table and one of the hottest places to eat in the UK with a year-long waiting list. Let’s call it fate. I’ve been occasionally looking at the Hand & Flowers website for the last year since a friend visited in April ’13 and has raved about it since. A couple of months ago in a fit of procrastination and knowing there wouldn’t be a holiday for us this summer something told me to go on to the H&F website. Although the site said no availability I put a random date into the accommodation search and there it was, one room available. Not only was it on a rare date that both of us could make, it was in the amazing Limousin Suite. As I pressed the book button I really didn’t believe we were going until the confirmation came through. A quick chat with the lovely staff there and we’d also secured a table for lunch.

Fast forward 8 weeks, on a glorious spring morning we were whizzing down the frankly tedious M40 for a much-needed break away.

Once checked in we spent a short time waiting in the new bar area before we were shown to our table, a private table to the back of the restaurant. Although we’d had a quick look at the menu online before arriving we’d decided on four rules: 1) we both had to have different dishes, no duplication 2) Hubs has a braver palate than me so if he wanted offal that would be fine. 3) Don’t choose your dish just because it’s the cheapest, go for what you want 4) we’d be going a la carte, though their set lunch is very good value at 3 courses for around £20.

whitebait with sodabread and sourdough H&F

While the Hand & Flowers is a pub and informal in some sense, the service and food is unlike any pub I’ve been to before, explaining its two Michelin stars. The advantage of dining in a Michelin starred pub – you can drink good beer with your meal. This went down very well with Hubs who shunned wine for a few pints of H&F ale.

starters hand and flowers

The meal started with whitebait, sourdough and sodabread. This was soon followed by our starters: soft and raw white asparagus with roasted mushroom and hazelnuts, aged parmesan and lardo for him (bottom); potato risotto with baked potato stock, artichoke, pickled girolles and wild garlic for me (top).

mains hand and flowers

Mains: a rather artistic looking Essex lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde for him (top right); tenderloin of Wiltshire pork with pickled mustard leaf, malt glazed cheek, garlic sausage and potato dauphine for me (left) plus we had to have a portion of the highly recommended duck fat chips. If I could regularly eat the duck fat chips and my pork dish I would be a very happy lady.

dessert hand and flowers And finally dessert, possibly my favourite course of the meal. We were really spoilt for choice and as we had a late lunch table we had more or less the whole place to ourself by now. Friends who visited H&F the year before ended up having four puddings between the two of them as they couldn’t pick just one. With rapidly filling stomachs we decided on just two. I had pear souffle with caraway crumble, caramalised white chocolate ice cream and pear sauce (left), whereas Hubs had chocolate ale cale with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream (right). This was served with a small shot of Quadrupel Ale, a 10% beer from Sharp’s Brewery that has a toffee port taste. This cut through the rich chocolate truffle cake perfectly.


copper bath Limousin Suite H&F

The lunch bill (including drinks and service) came to around £60/head which I thought was good value given we’ve paid not much less for a meal in a local restaurant with fewer accolades. A late lunch  worked well for us as it meant we could spend the evening chilling, make the most of the giant copper bath in the room plus after 4 courses it meant we had more room for breakfast the following morning.

bed detail H&F

Now I truly judge a place to stay by its bath, bedding, tea tray and breakfast. Bath must be big and deep, bedding must crisp with a feather duvet that hugs you, tea tray must use fresh milk and offer a good choice of freshly baked treats and the breakfast must be better than what you can make at home. Hand & Flowers certainly didn’t disappoint. It was the little touches that made it. Fluffy bathrobes, slippers, generous toiletries and even a few little things like phone chargers and an umbrella for the short walk to the pub.

tea tray H&F

As we’d had a large lunch we just settled for the contents of the tea tray for dinner. No stale catering pack shortbread here. Fresh lardy cake, chunky nut cookies and some Damian Allsop chocolates.

The huge copper bath took a good 20 min to fill, could easily fit three people in and was the perfect place to soak away the day with the ipod playing in the background. All that was missing was a glass of something chilled and bubbly.

H&F toiletries

After a restful night sleep we headed back down to the restaurant for breakfast. I was still full from the previous day so settled for croissants and some H&F muesli, none of your dusty muesli here. We’re talking chunks of various dried fruit tossed with honey, oats, bran and nuts. Hubs went for the English breakfast and was pleased to see it featured Stornoway black pudding, something he hadn’t eaten since our honeymoon.

limousin suite detail H&FSo in summary it was truly a wonderful stay at Hand & Flowers and something I would recommend if you have the chance. Everything from the food to the staff and room lived up to our expectations and we have great memories from our 24 hours there.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/04/23/our-stay-at-hand-and-flowers-marlow/

Mum’s Retro Banana Split

mum's banana split (2)

We all have foods that have a nostalgic sense to them. Some of them come straight from a packet, some were picked fresh from the garden, some had mystical methods and ingredients and then there are ones you come back to as an adult and realise they taste as good as you can remember. Disappointingly Butterscotch Angel Delight is not one of these.

This version of banana split was a common treat when I was a child and I still make it as an adult. To be honest it took me a good few years to realise banana splits traditionally come with ice cream. This version doesn’t and is a quick dessert that satisfies a sweet tooth and even manages to cram in a portion of fruit (crafty one mum).

banana split ingredients

Those retro crockery lovers out there will spot what mum served the banana splits in, corn on the cob dishes. A piece of tableware that is getting rarer. The ones in the photo are my mum’s and surprisingly classy given they’re 30-odd years old.

No there is no apologising that this recipe features a few ingredients that you thought you’d never see mentioned on the blog. Most noticeably squirty cream. There I confess it. In the fridge alongside a block of parmesan, sometimes artisan cheese and posh thick creamy yoghurt is a can of squirty cream. It’s essential fridge fodder. Yes it doesn’t taste quite a fine as freshly whipped cream but there are times, like banana split and hot chocolate, when only squirty cream will suffice. Just like bacon sarnies taste their finest with cheap pappy white bread.

Mum’s Banana Split
Makes 1

  • 1 banana
  • Golden syrup
  • Squirty cream
  • Hundreds & thousands
  • Chocolate chips or crumbled Flake
  • Glace cherry (essential)
  1. Peel and slice a banana and place in a suitable bowl.
  2. Drizzle with golden syrup then go mad with squirty cream. Trust me I’m usually nowhere near as restrained as I was in the photos.
  3. Sprinkle with hundreds & thousands and chocolate chips then top with glace cherry.
  4. Eat soon after making otherwise the squirty cream has a tendency of fizzle down.

retro banana split


Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/04/17/mums-retro-banana-split/

An evening with Tim Maddams

Tim Maddams Seasoned

We have fostered a tradition to buy each other foodie treat for Christmas or birthday. Previous gifts include a Gourmet break at Northcote, a dining experience in an old Pullman train carriage along the Carlisle-Settle line, chocolate making at School of Artisan Food and learning how to butcher a pig with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

This year Hubs bought me some tickets for an evening with Tim Maddams at Seasoned Cookery School, Catton Hall. It coincided with the Game Fair taking place on the estate at the same time. Due to work commitments we couldn’t make the fair, but looked forward to a night out. Tim Maddams has been head chef at River Cottage and now runs his own business, Green Sauce, teaching and catering for events throughout the UK.

Now this when I confess I’m not the biggest fan of game however Hubs is. This event would feature game and foraged foods available in April. The good thing about going to events with a tasting menu is that it’s an opportunity to try dishes I wouldn’t usually pick off a menu and be prepared to be surprised. A large amount of the main ingredients for the night were locally sourced from Catton or from near Tim’s home in Dorset.

Tim Seasoned menu

The evening started with a small rum cocktail garnished with water mint. It was an informal event. Rather than sitting down we spent our time in the main part of  Seasoned Cookery School watching Tim cook and chatting to other guests who appeared to come from all four corners of the UK to sample some of Tim’s cooking. I was lovely being able to chat to people who also had a passion about food.

Wild garlic and Derbyshire smoked Stilton cheese croquettes

These croquettes were the first course and one of my favourites. I’m a bit of a cheese fiend at the moment so this certainly satisfied a craving. Wild garlic is such a beautiful ingredient but it can be difficult to find near us so I was so pleased to see it featured on the menu. This really began to whet our appetites.

Cured organic trout sashimi

This was the first time I’d eaten trout and I’d always expected it to taste muddy, but this didn’t and I’ll certainly look out for trout on a menu to eat again.

Tim Seasoned courses

Charcoal grilled spiced pigeon, cous cous, mint yoghurt, dukka and chilli

Another first (I think) for me – pigeon. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this course. As mentioned earlier in the post I’m not the biggest game eater as I find the taste can be too strong, but with the accompanying cous cous and dukka it made a rather delicious dish.

Penne pasta, alexanders, breadcrumbs, olive oil

My usual rule is if I don’t know an ingredient on a menu I’ll usually guess it’s a mushroom. This is what I did when I spotted alexanders on the menu, wrong. Turns out it’s a wild plant in which the leaves, roots, stems and buds can be eaten. Taste wise it reminded me of a cross between celery and courgette.

Rhubarb Eton fumble

Time for the sweet course. This was a hybrid dessert; a kind of Eton mess, crumble, fool mix and one I could eat again and again. The rhubarb had been slowly roasted so it kept its shape tasted beautifully sweet but was not mushy or stringy. This rhubarb was then paired with mini meringues, thickly whipped fool and a nutty, fennel crumble.

We both had a lovely evening and will certainly look at going to similar evenings again. I think Tim succeeded in introducing lots of new ingredients and flavours to us all.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/04/15/an-evening-with-tim-maddams/

Make Eat Get Read Go – April ’14

april megrg v2

The concept of Make Eat Get Read Go (MEGRG) was only conceived mid March so you may think it’s not long since the last post, but I’m planning on posting them at the end of the month so here is April’s offerings. Unsurprisingly this edition has an Easter-ish theme.

1. Make

Lamb Creme Eggs

I’m a big fan of The Pink Whisk blog. I use some of her recipes in classes and they always work really well. I love this idea of hers to decorate a Creme Egg to look like a cute Easter lamb, however for me it has to be a Caramel egg. Would make a great project for kids too.

2. Eat

Slow roast shoulder of lamb with boulangere potatoes

This recipe for slow roast lamb with boulangere potatoes appeared on Tom Kerridge’s TV series and ever since we’ve been wanting to make it. The only way I enjoy lamb is if it is slow cooked or minced. This is a perfect dish for Easter Sunday. We’re very lucky to have managed to book a rare-as-hen’s-teeth table at Tom’s pub, Hand and Flowers,soon but you’ll have to wait for that blog post.

3. Get

David Austin Wild Edric Rose

A year in the house and we’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t work in the garden. We’ve also realised why one particular border never seems to grow much apart from the odd day lily, hydrangea and rose. The soil is well draining, but heavy clay and doesn’t always get the sun in the winter months. Roses seem to thrive in it and I’m not complaining I love roses so any excuse to expand my David Austin collection with this Wild Edric rose.

4. Read

Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy

I have no shame in saying I love the Bridget Jones series. Although I mostly read non-fiction sometimes I need a bit of fluffy chic lit. I got my copy for Christmas and need to make an effort to read it. No spoilers please!

5. Go

Paul A Young chocolate-inspired afternoon tea

I’m a big fan of Paul A Young, his brownies are unlike anything I’ve tasted. From the 14th April until June he’s doing a chocolate-inspired afternoon tea at Grosvenor House that features a chocolate and cucumber sandwich, salted caramel scones and other chocolate delights for £40 a head. I was invited to the launch but due to work commitments was unable to make it (gutted isn’t the word) so I feel I need to make up for it. I’ll never turn down an afternoon tea especially when it involves work by one of my favourite chocolatiers.

What do you want to Make Eat Get Read Go this April?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/03/30/make-eat-get-read-go-april-14/

Slow Cooked Lentil Ragu

slow cooked lentil ragu

Since buying our slow cooker before Christmas I’ve tried some of our old favourite recipes in it to see how they fare. Some work very well, some not so much. This is one of the recipes that is improved with a slow low cook. It transforms the sauce into a thick, rich almost meat-like sauce that even satisfied meat-loving Hubs. Technically it is a vegan dish (assuming you use vegan wine and Worcestershire sauce), that is until you load it with cheese like we do.

I often make a big batches of this lentil ragu and freeze in 1-2 portions so a quick dinner is always at hand. We usually serve it with either pasta or couscous but it also works well with rice. What makes this meal even better is that it is a thrifty dish coming in at about 77p per portion.

When ever I use lentils in dishes I tend to use a mixture of both red and green lentils. Red lentils are good for thickening a sauce whereas green lentils give the texture.

This recipe is as easy as it comes. No sautéing of vegetables required. Just throw all the prepped ingredients in the slow cooker, sit back and 5 hours later you have dinner.

Slow Cooker Lentil Ragu
Serves 6

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 125g button mushrooms, halved
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 100g dried red lentils
  • 100g dried green/puy lentils
  • 1 (400g) tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500g passata
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 125ml red wine or port (if making this as a vegan dish make sure the wine/port is vegan)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (again if making as vegan use a vegan Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper


  1. Prep all the vegetables and place in the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients. Stir.
  2. Cook on low for 5-7 hours until sauce is thick and lentils are cooked. It is sometimes worth giving the ragu an occasional stir during cooking and check no more liquid is required. If it does need more water before the end of cooking make sure this is hot water.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/03/21/slow-cooked-lentil-ragu/

Make Eat Get Read Go – March ’14

march megrg collage

I’ve decided to start a new blog series called Make Eat Get Read Go that looks at the things I want to do and discover in the next month. Some I’ve heard on the grapevine, some from friends and some I’ve spotted on my travels. You’ll notice there is a slight Derby bias with the March edition.

1. Make

DIY papercutting

I’ve always had a love for papercutting and birds in art so may have to treat myself to this set of DIY bird templates from Paper Panda. They also sell Introduction of papercutting kits.

2. Eat

Honey Cloud Pancakes

It’s traditional that we have one treat breakfast during the weekend. During the week breakfasts are usually a hastily eaten fruit bagel or bowl of porridge so at the weekend it’s nice to sit down and take our time. These Honey Cloud Pancakes from Things We Make are next on the list. They’ll also help satisfy my current addiction to berries.

3. Get

Biscuit Letterpress Coasters

Ink & Thread is a fabulous independent store in Derby that sells lots of quirky British design through their shop and online. I don’t think I can resist biscuit shaped coasters.

4. Read

GBBO Learn to Bake

This GBBO spin-off book Learn to Bake hasn’t been as big a hit as other books in the series,but it deserves to be. It doesn’t feature recipes from the series but a good solid selection of baking recipe suitable for the family. I’ve lost count how many copies of this book I’ve given away so when I spotted a copy for £3 in a local charity shop I decided I would keep this copy for myself.

5. Go

Fabulous Places – Spring Market

I went to my first Fabulous Places event when Debs, who runs it, started out 4 years ago. Over the years her events have grown and it’s the only local food/lifestyle event I’ll go out of my way for. Even my mum & sister have travelled over from Liverpool to attend Fab Places events. Debs carefully selects the local companies who attend and you are always guaranteed a good choice of high quality food and gift stalls. The Spring Market is being held at Derby Roundhouse, Sunday 23rd March and is just £1 to get in.

Now just need to decide what to eat while I’m there. Will it be Buffalo Brownies, Lilley & Lambert Marshmallows,  Bourneville Waffle Company or something from the mobile pizza oven.

What do you want to Make Eat Get Read and Go this March?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/03/15/make-eat-get-read-go-march-14/

The “Easier Than it Looks” Birthday Cake

60th chocolate birthday cake

It’s only on special occasions that I bake big cakes here. I was asked to bake a special cake for my Mother-in-Law’s 60th birthday. The original brief was a sugarpaste creation, but time limitations didn’t allow this, then I remembered the cake that Lorraine Pascale made in her first series of Baking Made Easy.

You don’t want to know which cake I originally planned to make. Seemed like a grand idea until I happened to spot the calorie content coming in at 1000+ calories a slice. I don’t count calories but seriously doubt that many cakes in this world would be worth indulging in for that. While this cake isn’t the healthiest (no the strawberries don’t cancel out the buttercream) it has to be better and it’s a treat cake, not something that should be eaten everyday.

chocolate finger birthday cake

Decorating cakes doesn’t have to be time-consuming or need a PhD in sugarpaste to do. The key is to keep it simple. Add too many colours and textures and you’re asking for trouble. Baking and decorating this cake took just 2 hours, though I did spread it over 24 hours. Also avoid hand piping as much as possible unless you know you have a super steady hand. I use Tappit letter cutters that give nice clean lettering.

If I had one slight criticism of the recipe is that the cake was very slightly dry. Chocolate cakes can be like this due to cocoa content, but it does make a good sturdy cake to ice.

As it’s more or less not my recipe I’ve linked to Lorraine’s original and noted my adaptations below

The “Easier Than it Looks” Birthday Cake
Makes 20 cm/8 inch birthday cake that serves 12-15


  • Lorraine Pascale’s “I can’t believe you made that” cake
  • 10 inch gold cake board
  • 2.5 x 125g boxes of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers, rather than the pricey chocolate cigarillos recommend in the original recipe. This works out at roughly 58 chocolate fingers for the cake and some to have with a cuppa once you’ve finished your masterpiece.
  • Two punnets of strawberries
  • Small piece of chocolate sugarpaste
  • Sugar flower or modelling paste for the lettering
  • Small amount of icing sugar to dust worktop
  • Edible gold lustre and stars for a bit of birthday bling
  • Small amount of gin/vodka or water

1. Follow Lorraine’s recipe up to and including instruction 7 but use the chocolate fingers instead of the cigarillos.

2. To make the name banner roll out a piece of chocolate sugarpaste until around 3cm x 18cm. Straighten off the edges with a knife. Then make cuts at each end of the ribbon to make the points.

easy birthday cake 3. Now make your letters. I use FMM Tappit cutters to get the clean font. Once you get used to the cutters they work really well. Dust your work surface with a small amount of icing sugar then roll out the sugar flower paste until it is less than a mm thick. Then cut out your letters. This video below uses the same method as me. I tap the letters out on a chopping board to make sure I don’t damage the table.

4. Put the strawberries on the cake and dust with a bit of edible gold lustre and stars then place the sugarpaste ribbon over the strawberries. Using a fine paintbrush paint the back of the letters with a small amount of gin then carefully stick to the ribbon. I use gin to stick sugarpaste as it dries quickly and is less likely to leave a water mark. Serve.

happy birthday cake

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2014/03/07/the-easier-than-it-looks-birthday-cake/

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