Halloween often leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I’m never entirely sure what I should be doing. I’m a little mature for trick or treating, but I still like to take part in celebrations in some way. I like getting into the spooky “spirit” – no pun intended. So this year I have made a conscious effort to search out my perfect Halloween night.
Many of the cities around the country are holding ghost walks or tours, which delve into the murky past of some of Britain’s oldest and supposedly haunted areas. I love a good ghoulish story so I was heartened to find that so many events are happening. Here are some of my favourites.
The Trial of Dr. Knox (from the Burke and Hare story) at Hotel du Vin Edinburgh .
Malloween at the Liverpool Malmaison, complete with monstrous munchies and creepy cocktails.
The Clink Prison, London, is Britian’s oldest prison and was a place of torture and suffering. Tour it if you dare.
Witching hour at Oxford Castle, home to a 900 year old crypt and a curse.
And if you’re slightly more faint of heart or have children in tow, the Halloween Disco and Ghost Tour for kids in Edinburgh may be more your thing? And if you’re anywhere near Cambridge, pop into Hotel du Vin for some pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon ice cream. The staff have a pumpkin carving contest between themselves and all the pumpkins will be displayed in the library and lit at night.
Perhaps you prefer to stay indoors and scare yourself with a movie.
Here are my top 5 films and top 5 dishes to get you into that Halloween state of mind.
- Halloween – setting the precedent for many horror films that followed. Still makes you shiver with the feeling that you’re being watched.
- Nightmare on Elm Street – Making the comfort of sleep horrifying
- The birds – maybe that’s where my fear of pigeons comes from!
- Final Destination series – turning every day happenings into terrifying events.
- Stephen King’s IT – Clowns. Need I say more?
- Pumpkin soup. After spending hours carving out a pumpkin, the least you can do with it is make a superb soup for those chilly nights.
- Spicy batwings. Chicken wings with a twist.
- Apple pie. All those bobbed apples have to go somewhere, right?
- Spaghetti. A worm inspired pasta main – not for the faint hearted.
- Risotto. A maggot like dish can easily be created here.
Do you agree? What’s your favourite scary movie and what will you be eating while watching it?
Whatever you choose to do, whether it’s dressing up as a pumpkin and dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or hiding in darkened room with a scary film, be sure to have a stupendously spooky time.
Ross Bootland. Head Chef at Hotel du Vin & Bistro Newcastle
Ross trained at the prestigious Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh for 2 years, winning Scottish Junior Seafood Chef of the Year, before moving down to London to add to his experience at the Manderin Oriental for a year. It was after this that he joined the Malmaison group in 1997 for 5 years – beginning in Edinburgh opening Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds and returning to Edinburgh.
He has also previously held position of Head Chef for Dakota Hotels in Glasgow and then for Forth Bridge Edinburgh achieving several awards in a short space of time including:
Hotel Restaurant of the Year 2008
Restaurant of the Year Scotland 2008
Seafood Restaurant of the Year 2008
and nominated as one of the top ten in Scotland.
Ross has been inspired over the years in particular by Keith Shearer, Executive Head Chef of Hotel du Vin and Malmaison and by award winning Roy Brett, Head Chef of Ondine Restaurant.
Ross is now Head Chef at Hotel du Vin Newcastle. Take a look at his favourite dishes and take part in the Northern Face-off on Facebook Hotel du Vin Newcastle.
We’ve been given an extra day off. Another blissfully long, four day weekend. Thanks to the Royal Wedding, whether you’re big on bunting or burying your head under the duvet, for this extra day off, I am truly thankful. I for one, think it’s a day to celebrate. To be proud of being British and of all things British. We sometimes forget to rally our sense of spirit and be a part of something, especially after the recent tough times and impending ‘double-dip’.
This is a happy event, that will go down in history and that as a country we kind of need to lift that spirit again. You may be sick as a chip of seeing it on the news, but I say let’s dig out those smart get ups and have something to talk about when we inevitably get asked when back at work ‘Where were you on Friday?’ And let’s face it, there’s not many occasions I can get away with my blue, spotted, heart shaped fascinator – but I’m sure this is one of them.
So, I’ll have my fingers crossed and shades at the ready for the sun to stick around. I’ll be gathering my nearest and dearest together in their most glorious finery, and instead of my usual glass of Pinot, I’ll be trying out some of the English wine and fizz everyone’s talking about. They sound like they’re going to be as big as the wedding itself this year. British wines and bubbly they tell me, are becoming a big hit for 2011 and beyond. as trends change and our summers are a few days longer. I think it would be rude not to give them a whirl. And they are of course being served at the Royal Wedding itself, so if it’s good enough for the happy couple… The Sommelier at Hotel du Vin & Bistro suggested I try a Balfour Brut Rosé or a Nannette’s English Rosé both from Hush Heath Estate in Kent, so I’ll be ordering a couple of those.
Once we’ve watched the celebration on TV or big screen and the vows have been made, being a Friday off and all, I know I won’t want the moment to end there. I’m never the first one to leave anything, so I’m thinking how quintessential a way to continue the afternoon than with an afternoon tea – a Champagne one of course. I can’t not have cake at a wedding…..any excuse. My favourite cake at that, light, fluffy, jam and cream filled, a nod to the British baking tradition, the Victoria Sponge. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Before the sweet I also can’t resist my favourite crust free sandwiches. I’m hoping for salmon, cucumber and cream cheese.
I’m not having my own street party as I live city centre and the main road might prove tricky to block off – so I’m heading for my local Hotel du Vin. That way I have the option of indoors or al fresco and they’ll definitely have all the treats I’m hankering for to save me attempting them at home – minus the cake mix plastered walls! – so I’d like to be treated like Royalty this weekend and be served wine and cakes for no other reason than I’m British.
You may choose to join me and be waited on, or you may fancy trying some of these specially created recipes below from Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin, for your own street party or soiré at home. Here’s to a happy Friday wherever you are. Whatever you choose to do, I choose to celebrate with loved ones. It’s not often we get a free Friday together.
Where will you be?
Victoria Sandwich cake
200gm caster sugar
200gm self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs one at a time and mix till well creamed,
Add sieved flour and baking powder,
Mix till a smooth batter is achieved,
Pour into a greased lined cake tin bake at 180c,
Bake for 20mins till well risen and firm to the touch,
Leave to cool split through the middle spread with strawberry jam (fresh whipped cream or butter cream optional),
Replace the top and dust with icing sugar
250gm strong white flour
500gm plain flour
45gm baking powder
500ml butter milk
Rub butter through dry ingredients until fine crumbs are achieved,
Add buttermilk and mix to combine, do not over mix,
Roll out to one inch thickness and cut out circular shapes,
Egg wash the top (careful not to get any egg wash on sides of scone or it will stop them rising),
Bake at 210c until well risen and golden brown,
Serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam
1lb ripe bananas
1lb caster sugar
4 whole eggs
8oz melted butter
1lb plain flour
1 1/2 oz baking powder
In a machine bowl whisk bananas and sugar together,
Add eggs oil and melted butter,
Sieve flour and baking powder together,
Fold into banana mixture,
Pour into greased and lined 1lb loaf tins scale at 400gm,
Bake at 180c for 30-40 mins
1125gm strong white flour
Lightly cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs slowly until well incorporated,
Add flour until just combined,
Reserve till needed,
Roll out 3-4 mm thick line small tart cases bake blind till fully baked leave to cool,
Brush melted chocolate into the tart case
1 vanilla pod split and scraped
6 egg yolks
125gm caster sugar
30gm plain flour
15gm corn flour
Heat milk with vanilla pod,
Whisk caster sugar and egg yolks together,
With the flour and corn flour,
Add hot milk to egg mix return to stove cook out,
Chill reserve till needed, fold in semi-whipped cream to soften
Fill tart shells with pastry cream, decorate with seasonal fruit – nice combination of colours,
Finish off with a clear pastry glaze on top, set removes drips,
Run toasted desiccated coconut round the edge to finish.
Recipes by Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin & Bistro
It’s the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. So let’s talk about the weather. Bank Holidays are notorious for unpredictable forecasts. We’ve all got our fingers crossed that this warm spell will last, but I’m not too worried. I’m always torn on my treasured days off, between sunshine, alfresco lunches, leisurely strolls and shopping, or, a great steak, a bottle of red, cosy sofas and chatting the afternoons away.
As a wine type, (unless it’s something sparkling in a Champagne coupe), I’m definitely a red girl. And as this is the colour I usually turn when I so much as look at the sun, Bank Holiday climates don’t normally bother me. I realise I’m likely to be in the minority, apart from the partaking in some wine sipping over the fabulously long four days of holidays that is.
This got me to thinking about those wonderful winemakers of the world, who thankfully produce and nurture a vast variety of grapes, perfect for drinking in any weather type, in any city, come rain or shine.
Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn at Hotel du Vin has given us a little insight into the grape varieties to match the varied conditions:
Warm and sunny
These ideal Bank Holiday conditions make for a light, fresh and fruity wine with acidity. Perfectly refreshing. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety, displaying flowery, almost perfumed aromas, as well as a high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked.
Wet and cold
Syrah is a heavy and rich type. A dark-skinned grape, grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines. Whether sold as Syrah or Shiraz, these wines enjoy great popularity.
Grey and overcast
Pinot Noir. A lighter red wine. This is a black wine grape. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from Pinot Noir grapes and is derived from the French words for ‘pine’ and ‘black’ alluding to the grape variety’s tightly clustered dark purple pinecone-shaped bunches of fruit.
Windy and anything in-between
Cabernet Sauvignon, the easy drinking grape with a bit of weight to it. Perfect for a breezy day. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognised red wine grape varieties. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates. Very adaptable.
So, I think I’ll be ordering the Pinot Noir, whatever the weather this Easter weekend, and enjoying it in the bar at my local Hotel du Vin Newcastle, or perhaps a glass of Champagne in the courtyard with some sunscreen if the sun still has his hat on.
Once the remit of the cooler wine shops, the “By-the-glass” wine dispenser will take pride of place in the new Bistro du Vin. For all those who love to try wine but don’t want to risk the whole bottle or a full glass, this machine will allow you to be more much more adventurous with your wine choice.
The process is simple. Buy a card at the bar of the bistro and top it up as and when. Wine measures come in two sizes – 50cl and 150cl. As far as we’re aware this is the first of it’s kind to feature in a bistro, and is perfect for the du Vin disciple who love his or her wine.
You can see a similar device in the Vagabond Wine shop in London.