The Feathered Nest Inn, The Cotswolds

Nestled in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds is a sleepy village named Nether Westcote, home to the award winning pub, ‘The Feathered Nest Inn’. However do not be tricked by the name, this stands far apart from your average village haunt, and the food is a world away from your typical ‘pub grub’. Upon entering the car park, you will be greeted with breathtaking views across the Evenlode valley, the sunny garden being a perfect place to admire this with a cold drink in hand. The interior of the inn does also, not disappoint. It has been tastefully decorated with antiques dotted around, in corners, shelves and on windowsills, giving it a welcoming feel. Upstairs they have four rooms, each one beautifully decorated and different from the other. Next, I move onto the most important part, the food. Although they serve a simple bar menu, the à la carte menu is really what gets your tastebuds tingling. Whilst perusing the menu you are served delicious homemade canapés to give you a taste of what’s to come. There are not many restaurants that I have been to where I want to eat everything on the menu, but this is one of the special few. I have included a few photos of the dishes we had. I’m sorry I haven’t included any mains, but they were so good, they were gobbled up before I could even take a photo.

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Sea Bream, tigers milk, pisco, papaya,chilli, coriander

This starter was fresh and zingy with flavour. The subtle heat of the chilli added a lovely extra hit at the end.

Asparagus, hen egg,  parmesan, savoury custard, chives
Asparagus, hen egg, parmesan, savoury custard, chives

This dish is perfect for this time of year as it is asparagus season, and these were sourced from nearby Evesham. The ‘egg’ is a flavoursome surprise, as it is not actually an egg at all! (I’ll let you go and find out why for yourself!)

Beetroot, ewes curd, yoghurt, pumpernickel, dill
Beetroot, ewes curd, yoghurt, pumpernickel, dill

For the vegetarians amongst you, this will no doubt set your stomachs rumbling. Don’t expect your average bland vegetarian dish here! In fact if all vegetarian dishes were like this the butchers would be out of business.

Burnt cream, gariguette strawberry, red vein sorrel
Burnt cream, gariguette strawberry, red vein sorrel

I had been looking forward to dessert all evening and this did not disappoint. The ‘burnt cream’ was like a beautiful crème brûlée, and the strawberries worked harmoniously with the sweetness to leave a refreshed palette. Overall, I cannot rate this gem of a restaurant highly enough. If you live near The Feathered Nest Inn, or are simply visiting the area, make sure this is a place you will visit, you will not regret it. Make sure you book a table in advance though, especially on the weekend, as apparently they often are fully booked, which is of course, no surprise.

The Feathered Nest Inn,
Nether Westcote,
Oxfordshire,
OX7 6SD
United Kingdom
Tel: 01993 833 030

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Raspberry Cupcakes, Gluten Free

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Gluten free flour is known for making cakes much denser, so in this recipe I have substituted the butter for Stork margarine in order to get a lighter and airier texture.

(makes 12)

Ingredients:
115g Stork margarine (tub)
115g castor sugar
2 eggs
140g gluten free plain flour (I used Doves Farm)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of milk
15g freeze dried raspberries

Icing:
85g Stork margarine (tub)
230g sieved icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk
pink food colouring
edible flowers (optional)

Method:

1. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and beat together until smooth.

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2. Place a heaped tablespoon of mixture into each cupcake case. Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºc for 20 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. (For an Aga, about 10 minutes in the roasting oven with the cold shelf on the 2nd set of runners).

cooking cupc

3. Cool on wire tray.
 cooling cupc
4. Combine the icing ingredients and mix until smooth. Add the food colouring to your preference (I use a toothpick for this). Alternatively separate the icing into separate bowls to create different colours or add cocoa powder to the icing instead of food colouring to create raspberry and chocolate cupcakes.

5. Spoon the icing into a piping bag and starting at the edge, pipe in a circular motion into the centre of the cupcake. Decorate as desired. Edible flower petals can make it look extra special.

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Enjoy!

Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is a truly breathtaking place to visit, a destination from which you will never want to return. With spectacular coastal scenery and gorgeous food it is of no surprise that this is a popular tourist destination.

Coastline
Coastline

The town of Amalfi itself, famed for its lemons and limoncello, is a fantastic place to visit due to its medieval architecture, quaint shops and of course the Amalfi Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century. The steps leading up to its entrance overlook the ‘Piazza Duomo’, the heart of Amalfi, and a great place to buy a gelato and enjoy the buzz of this town.

Buffalo mozzarella from Ristorante Torre del Saracino
Buffalo mozzarella from Ristorante Torre del Saracino

Another place to visit is the town of Ravello, situated just above the Amalfi coast. If I had to recommend one attraction here, it would be the Villa Rufolo with its stunning gardens overlooking the coast below. If you plan to visit here in summer months, my tip would be to try and get tickets to one of the many concerts that take place in the gardens, a perfect way to while away a balmy evening.

Positano
Positano

The town of Positano is again, a beautiful place to visit. Although it does attract tourists, it certainly has a more traditional Italian feel than the bigger towns like Amalfi. It is the perfect place for a stroll and to browse through the shops, winding their way down to the water front. A delightful place to stop for lunch is in the gardens of the Hotel Palazzo Murat. This hotel was previously a monastery and although in the centre of Positano, upon entering the gardens, the noise of the surrounding streets disappears. This is a perfect place on a hot day with the trees providing a shady, cool place to sit. If you are looking for somewhere lavish to stay, book a room at the nearby ‘Il san Pietro di Positano’. This Relais & Chateaux hotel is not only beautiful, but can also boast of some of the best food in the area.

Waters surrounding Capri
Waters surrounding Capri

If luxury is what you are after, the place to head is the island of Capri where lavish boutiques are in abundance. This is a fantastic place for a day trip and the waters off this island are the colour of turquoise, a place to take a dip amongst the super yachts surrounding Capri. If you are looking to treat yourself, a trip to the newly opened restaurant ‘Mamá’ is certainly in order. This is the second restaurant of the two star Michelin chef, Genarro Esposito, and is a restaurant that you will dream about long after you have left, due to its delectably fresh food that captures Italy in a mouthful.

Banana & Chocolate Cake, Dairy Free

This cake is great if you are dairy free and still want a slice of something sweet to go with your cup of tea, or if you are looking for a cake that is just a bit healthier. If you are gluten intolerant you can swap the flour for ground almonds, to create an equally delicious, more moist cake.
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Ingredients:
75g cocoa powder
135ml boiled water
2 tsp vanilla extract
130g plain flour (or 125g ground almonds)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
150ml olive oil or rapeseed oil
1 banana (2 bananas for a stronger flavour)
Icing sugar for finishing (not essential)

Method:
1. Preheat your oven to 170°C and line and grease a 23cm/24cm circular cake tin with oil.

2. Put the eggs, sugar, and olive oil into a bowl and whisk for about 2 minutes. It helps to do this with an electric whisk, as your arm will get very tired!

3. In a separate bowl, sift the cocoa powder and add the boiling water to create a paste, don’t worry if you have a couple of lumps. Then add this to the mix above.
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4. In another bowl, add together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Then add this to the mix and whisk for another 1 minute.
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5. (If at this point you want a stronger banana flavour, chop the banana into pieces and stir into the mix.) Then pour into the prepared cake tin.

6. Chop the banana into thin slices and place on top of the mixture
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7. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. (Bake for the same amount of time in an Aga in the roasting oven with the cold shelf on the second set of runners).

8. Once baked, allow to cool for 10 minutes and then remove from tin and dust with a sprinkle of icing sugar. It is best served warm with a cream or custard. Enjoy!

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Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, or Lago di Como as it is known in Italian, is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. It is just over an hour from Milan, and is therefore a popular destination for tourists and Italians alike. Lake Como The main town of Como is the biggest on the lake. When looking for a bit more buzz than the quieter villages around the lake can offer, this is the place to come. Here you will find museums, plenty of shops, parks etc. A great thing to do when in Como, is to take the funicular railway to the top of the surrounding mountain upon which sits the village of Brunate. From here you get a spectacular view of the lake and on a clear day, you can even see as far as the alps. Further up the lake are a popular group of villages; Lenno, Tremezzo, Bellagio, Mennagio, and Varenna. Lenno does not have much to offer in terms of shopping, so a good day to visit would be on Tuesday when the local market sets up here. However the reason why Lenno is popular is because of the ‘Villa Balbianello’.

Villa Balbianello
Villa Balbianello

This is a spectacular villa and gardens situated on the cliff of Lenno, reached by a brisk 20 minute walk from Lenno, or by a 3 minute water taxi ride. I would highly recommend this as a place to visit, and if you conquer the 20 minute walk, there is a scrumptious  gelato shop waiting for you upon your return in Lenno! Tremezzo again is a quiet village, with its point of interest being ‘Villa Carlotta’. Inside the villa is a museum, but the gardens are the true highlight. Situated on a slope, the views are breathtaking from the top, with beautifully landscaped gardens to match. Although the gardens are wonderful throughout the year, I visited in October when most plants had already flowered, so if visiting Lake Como in the summer, a trip here is a must. Also in Tremezzo is the iconic ‘Grand Hotel Tremezzo’.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Grand Hotel Tremezzo

This hotel oozes style with its sumptuous interior which combine both classic and modern designs perfectly.
The spa here is also of utmost quality, with drop glass windows overlooking the lake from its state of the art hydrotherapy pool.

Menaggio
Menaggio

Menaggio is a larger village than Lenno and Tremezzo with both more shops and more hotels. Half a day here is enough, but a tip would be too leave time for lunch at Hotel Corona Ristorante. This restaurant is positioned in the main piazza under the ‘Hotel Garni Corona’. The restaurant overlooks the lake and serves traditional Italian cuisine. Of all the food I ate in the week I was here, this was some of the best due to its simplicity. Varenna is another village to visit to while away half a day, so my advice would be to spend the morning and lunch in Mennagio, and then make the short ferry trip over to Varenna for the afternoon. Varenna is probably one of the prettiest villages on the lake, and has a charming little walkway around the edge of the lake which connects the two halves of the village together. There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and ice cream shops along the waters edge to stop and enjoy the sunshine and watch the ferries coming in and out.
Varenna

In my opinion, what sets Varenna out from the other villages is its independent artisan shops. Whether this be pottery or watercolour, you are sure to come away with a souvenir from here. Finally, the village of Bellagio, otherwise know as ‘The pearl of Lake Como’. This is a popular tourist destination, so don’t expect the same calmness as the other villages on the lake.

Sunset from Bellagio
Sunset from Bellagio

Famed for its silk production, there is an abundance of shops selling silk scarves and any other item that can possibly be made out of silk! There is plenty to do here from a visit to the ‘Villa Melzi’ gardens to wandering through the romantic cobbled alleyways. A day is certainly needed to experience Bellagio to its full extent, particularly if you intend to include a good bout of shopping. If you are really looking to treat yourself, a visit to the michelin starred restaurant ‘Mistral’ at the ‘Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni’ should most certainly be on the list. The food here is exceptional, and starts from the moment they bring you the bread basket (which is a meal in itself!), the flavours are outstanding.