The Beechwood Hotel, Norfolk – A Review

 

 

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The Beechwood Hotel is an attractive country house hotel located on the edge of the market town of North Walsham. The award-winning, fine-dining restaurant seats up to 60 people and offers breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner to residents and non-residents alike. The hotel has an interesting history: from the 1930s to the mid 1960s it was a private house owned by two doctors who were close friends of the crime writer Agatha Christie. Indeed, she spent a lot of time there and used to disappear off to the summerhouse in the garden where she spent time writing. There is various memorabilia and photographs in the hotel available for guests to look at. The crime-writing connection has inspired the owners to put on successful “murder mystery” evenings which offer a delicious three course evening meal while the intrepid diners try to work out “whodunit”.

 

Chef Steven Norgate is passionate about local Norfolk produce and sources most ingredients for his innovative modern British menu from within ten miles of the hotel, such as Morston mussels, Cromer crabs, Sheringham lobsters and outstanding 21 day aged beef that melts in the mouth.

 

The dinner menu could include a starter such as Tavern Tasty ham hock terrine, pea puree, tomato chutney, sourdough crisps, capers, rocket and a mustard dressing followed by Bunwell Estate venison and local, seasonal vegetables. And to round off an excellent meal, I highly recommend the sticky toffee pudding when available or the “trio of Belgian chocolate” dessert.

 

There is always a vegetarian option on the menu too, for example a rosti potato pancake filled with goat’s curd, wild mushrooms, cauliflower puree and onion marmalade served with apple and rocket salad.

 

Whether you go to the Beechwood Hotel for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner or a “special occasion” meal, you won’t be disappointed. With polite and attentive staff, elegant surroundings and food by one of the best chefs in the area, the Beechwood Hotel is most definitely one of the gems in Norfolk’s crown!

 

 

www.beechwood-hotel.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oodles of Healthy Noodles

One of the great things about writing a food blog is having the opportunity to review new products, kitchen equipment or food. I was recently asked to try “Mr Lee’s Noodles” which are marketed as “Gourmet Oriental Noodles in a Cup”. They are gluten-free, and contain freeze-dried ingredients which retain flavours better once reconstituted  – as opposed to dehydrated – with “absolutely no nasties”. And there’s more – they’re low in salt, low in sugar, low in saturated fats and low in calories. All well and good but would they also be low in taste?

I was keen to put them to the test as I’m always on the lookout for healthy options for food on the go but first I thought I’d better see what the competition was like so I trotted along to the supermarket to see what I could find. It seemed that a popular and not too expensive variety was “Pot Noodle” and there are apparently at least a dozen different flavours to choose from. I selected the Chicken & Mushroom – here it is:

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And here’s the nutritional information on the back of the pot:

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It’s disappointing for someone who’s trying to eat more healthily to see palm fat and monosodium glutamate in a list of ingredients and what exactly do things like potassium carbonate and disodium inosinate add to these noodles? If I don’t know what it is, I’m certainly not going to eat it.

So onto the noodles provided by the team at Mr Lee’s.

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I spent a week trying out the six available flavours (noodles almost every day!) and you can see below what I thought of them. It’s worth bearing in mind that I’ve never tasted any other brand of instant cup noodle (I only photographed the chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle – it then went back on the supermarket shelf because the ingredients really put me off) so I couldn’t do a direct taste comparison with other noodles on the market. I took photos of the nutritional information panels of each Mr Lee’s flavour and there are indeed no “nasties” such as monosodium glutamate or palm fat. I’ve also calculated – for any Slimming World members who may be reading this review – the amount of Syns per pot and Mr Lee’s Noodles are reassuringly low Syn.

As I’m a bit of a chilli wimp, I thought I’d start with a flavour that was classed as ‘mild’ ( one chilli rating) – Hong Kong Street Beef. Mr Lee’s consist of rice noodles which I find are a lighter option than wheat noodles.

Here’s the nutritional panel:

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Here’s what they looked like when I’d made them up:

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You can see the decent sized pieces of beef (which actually tasted of beef and not some indeterminate meaty substance) , broccoli and red pepper and the noodles softened very well but weren’t soggy. There was more than a subtle hint of chilli – I’d say 5/10 in the heat stakes – and the flavours of ginger and five spice were evident in the light, savoury sauce. The sauce had a clean, fresh taste and wasn’t over salty. Slimming World Syn value – 2 Syns per pot

Next I tried the Shaolin Monk Vegetable noodles.

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This flavour is suitable for vegetarians but not vegans as it contains honey. This flavour has no chilli rating. It had a good selection of vegetable pieces with cauliflower, green beans, red pepper and sweetcorn being particularly evident.

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Although five spice, garlic granules and yeast extract were listed as ingredients, they didn’t come through that well. Overall, this pot was quite bland and while not unpleasant, it was a little disappointing as I thought the variety of vegetables – including usually more robust porcini mushrooms – would add more flavour. Perhaps a little chilli would have livened it up. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot

Next came the Warrior Fighting Shrimp flavour.

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Now this flavour was rated “3 chillis” so I was prepared for quite a whack of heat.

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What came through very strongly at first was the five spice and the fish sauce and the hit from the chilli came soon after and numbed my taste buds somewhat – so much so that I couldn’t really distinguish any other flavours. The prawns were quite plump and you could see spring onion and seaweed flakes but for me, the chilli overwhelmed them. I think a “medium / two chilli rating” would have allowed the other elements to shine a little more. I found the chilli levels in this pot a little too challenging – perhaps a 9/10 heat factor – and would recommend having a large glass of water nearby. Due to the amount of chilli in this and the very fishy taste (as opposed to a more delicate seafood flavour), this was my least favourite of the noodles I tried and I didn’t finish the pot. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot

The first of two chicken varieties I tried was the Tail Chi Chicken.

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Once made up, this pot had quite a strong smell of chicken (not artificial) and the pieces of meat were clearly visible along with sweetcorn and green beans.

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There was a noticeable hint of ginger which balanced the overall flavour and it reminded me – in a good way – of chicken and sweetcorn soup that I used to eat in Chinese restaurants, back in the day. This had no chilli in it but there was a gentle warmth from the ginger and plenty of flavour without it. Slimming World Syn value – 2 per pot

Next I chose the Dragon Fire Mushroom pot.

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This had a rating of three chillis like the Warrior Fighting Shrimps and so I prepared myself with a glass of water and an electric fan – just in case. (Actually, I’m joking about the fan!) Reassuringly there were a lot of mushrooms in this pot along with red pepper pieces.

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When made up, the vegetables looked very substantial and the mushrooms weren’t slimy once reconstituted. The liquid was very well absorbed so it was less “soupy” than the other varieties I tried. This pot had a mild savoury taste with a hint of wild garlic and surprisingly, given the three chilli rating, wasn’t as hot as I’d anticipated. I’d say it had an 8/10 chilli factor and as a result I managed to finish all of it. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot.

The final pot of Mr Lee’s Noodles was Penang Chicken Curry Laksa which had a two chilli rating so I expected a manageable medium heat.

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When prepared, this pot had a good mix of chicken pieces, cauliflower and red pepper.

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The ingredients included coconut cream but I couldn’t really taste is as the predominant flavour was curry powder – which was fine but I’d hoped the coconut would have had more of a presence. I’d give the heat from the chilli a 6/10 rating. I felt this pot had a good ‘clean’ flavour and the curry taste didn’t linger on my tongue afterwards. Slimming World Syn value – 2 per pot

 

Having sampled all six varieties of Mr Lee’s Noodles, I would recommend them for occasions when you have to grab lunch on the go. Of course, I’ve given my honest opinion on each of the flavours based on what I like and the fact that I can’t eat food with too much chilli.

Mr Lee’s Noodles would be a good cupboard standby for times when you can’t always cook from scratch e.g. when you’re at work as all you need is a kettle. All varieties are gluten-free and some flavours are suitable for vegetarians.

Slimming World members – Mr Lee’s Noodles are only 1 ½ or 2 Syns per pot whereas standard pot noodles (any brand) are at least 5 Syns – and may contain several unhealthy ingredients and fillers too. As far as ‘fast food’ goes, Mr Lee’s Noodles are a healthy option that you can easily incorporate into the food optimising lifestyle.

 

Mr Lee’s Noodles (and there is a real Mr Lee behind them) are not currently available in supermarkets but you can buy them online at: www.mrleesnoodles.com.

 

 

Disclaimer: I was sent a box of Mr Lee’s Noodles in return for an honest review. The above reflects my genuine opinion of the product.

 

The Norfolk Deli – A Review

For my second in a series of articles on local Norfolk food producers, I took the opportunity to visit Hunstanton to meet Mark and Rosie, the husband and wife team who own and run “The Norfolk Deli”. I’ve been following their Facebook page and Twitter feed for quite a while and I’ve been impressed with the glorious photographs of all the edible goodies – many made in store – they regularly post.

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When I walked into the Deli, the vast array of products immediately caught my eye: jars, bottles and packets of all shapes and sizes not to mention fresh bread, cakes and chocolate. At the far end of the shop was a counter brimming with a huge assortment of cheese as well as sausage rolls, pork pies, cold meats and mini quiches. In fact, there was so much food I was beside myself. The Deli is a foodie heaven reminiscent of traditional delicatessens you find in France or Italy.

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I then discovered the Deli also had a downstairs where there was a wine cellar, more food products, the “Gift Hamper Station” and four tables where people could eat the sandwiches or salads they’d purchased upstairs.

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After my whistle-stop tour, I sat down with Mark and asked how he and Rosie came to own the Deli. Mark said he had previously worked in the IT industry for 30 years and Rosie had been an actress and a midwife (amongst other things). Rosie had grown up with parents who had run a B&B and owned a café and Mark said that they both grew up in families where food was appreciated. The idea of doing something food-related had been in Mark’s mind for a good ten years but it was only when their three children had left home that the couple felt the time was right.

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Mark and Rosie considered setting up a B&B or running a pub but once they’d been to Hunstanton in 2013 and viewed the Deli premises, they felt that it was the ideal business for them to take over and build on. They opened their doors in January 2014 and are open seven days a week.

I was astonished to learn that they do everything themselves from working in the shop, updating the website, making cakes, inventive salads and other food items, making up gift hampers, mail order as well as more recently producing ready meals and undertaking outside catering.

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Their hard work has paid off as the Norfolk Deli has won several awards including most recently the “Muddy Stilettos” 2016 award for “Best Deli” and the 2015 “Norfolk Food & Drink Award” for “Best Independent Retailer”. Other recognition includes being a finalist in the 2016 national “Farm Shop and Deli Awards” and being a finalist in two categories in the “Kings Lynn Mayor’s Business Awards” namely “Business Person of the Year” and “Independent Retailer”.

One event that Mark attended in September this year as a finalist was the “Café Life Awards” where he had entered the “New York Bagel Challenge”. Mark described this occasion as “a fashion show for sandwiches” although it is in fact a trade show for the fast food industry. With well-known national companies such as Pret a Manger, Subway and Marks & Spencer taking part in this event every year, it was testament to Mark and Rosie’s increasing reputation – despite being a comparatively young business – that one of their recipes made the finals.

Mark and Rosie believe that being a good retailer is not just about having an “open” sign on the door. I’d say that the Norfolk Deli isn’t simply a shop: it’s a place where you can try and buy a wide range of locally produced items, you can buy a sandwich and eat in or take it away, you can order a gift hamper that will be delivered free of charge, you can browse the wine cellar and purchase made-on-the-premises bread, cakes and other treats. There is a selection of over 60 cheeses, over 30 cold meats / hams and at least a dozen types of olives and antipasti. You can even order a wedding cake made of cheese!

Mark and Rosie’s recent move into outside catering means they are able to provide food and drink for business meetings, product launches, parties or private events and they also have an online “click and collect” service for takeaways.

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When you’re next in North Norfolk, I’d highly recommend a visit to The Norfolk Deli in “Sunny Hunny” but if you can’t get there, have a look at their stylish interactive website which Mark designed and keeps constantly updated: www.norfolk-deli.co.uk

 

The original version of this article appeared on the Norfolk Places website – www.norfolkplaces.co.uk – in November 2016.

 

2016 -A Review

As we rapidly approach 2017, I thought I’d take some time to review my significant moments of the past year and consider what I learned from them.

As many of you know, we relocated to North Norfolk in December 2015 so for us, 2016 promised to be an exciting year. We bought a house in March and moved in just after Easter. After living in south London for almost 20 years and inhaling relentless diesel fumes, encountering the ‘angry brigade’ with alarming regularity – you know, the road ragers, the commuter ragers, the supermarket queue moaners – and being bombarded by constant noise, it has been a joy to live in a small, quiet village in the country.

We wake up to glorious silence, only broken by the occasional squawk of the pheasants or the singing of the gentler dawn chorus. What a change from our previous house which being on a rat run meant traffic noises started early, drowning out the sounds of any wildlife which dared to rear its head. Our Norfolk neighbours are friendly and always stop for a chat. Very different from say, Croydon, where if you caught anyone’s eye they’d look at you as if you were an axe murderer. Or maybe they were afraid you’d identified them as one. We support local shops and farm producers where possible and I’m sure things like potatoes taste more ‘potato-ey’ than if you buy them in a supermarket. I’ve attended various Farmers’ Markets in the area and have made contact with small, local food producers, deli owners, cafe and restaurant owners and others who are putting Norfolk on the foodie map of Great Britain. While we’re not quite leading the ‘Good Life’ (no goat called Geraldine in our garden), it’s certainly a vast improvement on our previous one.

We’re fortunate that following the move and the down-sizing involved, I’m able to work on a part-time basis while my husband stays at home as the ‘Domestic, Garden and Cocker Spaniel Manager’. In our early 50s, we’ve finally discovered the meaning of ‘work-life balance’ and it’s an excellent feeling. We bring home less money but we’re so much happier. So many well-known people have passed away in 2016 with some not that much older than us. Who really wants to work until they drop or drop before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy life? Hubby and I both had near death experiences in the last few years: he had an undiagnosed heart problem in 2012 that was almost fatal and in 2013 I was involved in a road traffic accident that nearly polished me off. As a result we decided that the time was right to take life by the horns and enjoy whatever time we have left. That’s why we’re now in Norfolk and loving it.

Once we’d settled in to our new house, I thought I’d better find a job which wasn’t as easy as it would have been in London given that my area of HR is a bit specialised, but I persevered. After a couple of false starts in jobs that weren’t right for me (memo to self – never take the first offer or the second if it’s worse than the first), I found my ideal position working as an HR Manager for a local animal sanctuary. It’s a big change from my previous HR roles in corporate type organisations: I’m based in a shed on a farm, there’s a lot of mud, and I have to walk 200 yards to a portacabin loo which can be a challenge when it’s minus 4 degrees outside or bucketing down with rain! As I write this during my lunch break, I’m wearing a woolly hat, fingerless gloves, a thermal vest, a thin fleece, a thicker fleece over the top, tights under my trousers, thick socks and walking boots. This is ‘office chic’ Norfolk country style. No more early morning decisions about what shirt to wear or whether I need to iron a suit for meetings. I may look like a bag lady – the grey hair probably doesn’t help – but I’m warm (mostly) and still getting the work done. And, even better, I have an outstanding view across the fields: I see happy cows; horses; sheep; pigs; goats and I get frequent cuddles and licks from puppies in the dog rescue centre. Unlike when I worked for a well-known telecommunications company or an equally prominent clothes, food and home goods retailer (not just any retailer, you know the one), I feel I’m doing something worthwhile and not just increasing share-holders’ profits.

The other significant change in my life is ending 2016 almost 5 ½ stone lighter than I was in January. After 30 years of yoyo dieting, the odd cranky eating regime (I don’t recommend the grapefruit and hardboiled egg diet) and even the very low calorie liquid diet that knocked off 7 stone in 6 months (regained within 18 months), I found Slimming World and it has completely changed my life.

People who have never been overweight, fat, morbidly obese, or even slightly porky will never be able to understand quite how it affects the lives of people who are. I’m generally seen as an outgoing, lively person but underneath the formerly fat, seemingly jolly exterior was a desperately unhappy individual with low self-esteem and a high level of self-loathing. If I couldn’t love myself, how could I expect anyone else to? I was very fat, extremely miserable and a compulsive eater. All this psychobabble about ‘comfort eating’ is a load of tripe in my experience. I’d eat when I was happy (to ‘celebrate’), upset (to ‘compensate’) or stressed (to ‘calm down’). I’d eat when I was hungry and when I wasn’t. Eating didn’t cheer me up or comfort me – it made me feel even worse but I was caught in a never-ending cycle and genuinely believed it would never change. While I did lose weight on the ‘good’ diets I tried such as WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley, I was always hungry. Calculating ‘points’ was time-consuming and you had to buy all the WeightWatchers paraphernalia in order to do it. I lost a stone in 2015 having attended WW for about 8 weeks but lost the will to live at that point and gave up.

When I joined Slimming World in Norfolk on 5th January 2016, I didn’t expect to have the success I’ve achieved. I thought I’d probably last a couple of months and then it would go the way of other fruitless weight loss attempts. How wrong I was. Once I’d got to grips with the plan I was off – and so were the unwanted pounds. I attended the group every week and made lots of new friends, all fighting the same battle as me. With Slimming World, there is minimal weighing and measuring of food and you can eat satisfyingly large amounts and still lose weight. Of course, over 30 years of bad habits don’t disappear overnight and I’ve had the occasional wobble when chocolate or cake has called to me very loudly but I’ve always got back on track very quickly and continued to lose weight. At the time of writing this, I’ve lost a total of 6 stone 4 ½ lbs since March 2015. By the end of March 2017, I’m certain I will have reached my target (1 and a half stone to go) and I know that I won’t ever be the fat, fiftyish, frumpy friend again because I have changed my eating habits for life thanks to Slimming World. If I can do it, anybody can. My only regret is that I wasted time and money on all those other diets over many years and ended up chunkier than ever.

One thing I’m disappointed about was not keeping up with my blog in 2016 as much as I’d planned. The house move, job hunting and the diet took up most of my time and the blog – which largely featured cakes and baking when I started it – took a back seat. I’m hoping to change that for 2017 as I enjoy writing and have quite a few ideas for new posts. I need to learn a few more technical things about WordPress and may need to upgrade so that I can do things with widgets and plug-ins (finding out what they are will be my first priority!). The focus will still be food – obviously – but geared towards healthier eating while not compromising on flavour. I plan to continue interviewing local Norfolk food producers for the blog and a Norfolk travel website, undertake product reviews and lots more.

So what did I learn in 2016? Firstly, that there is life after London and that moving to the country has benefitted my health, well-being and self-esteem enormously. Secondly, looking for a job can be challenging especially when one is over 50 (ahem!) but with some positive thinking and creative approaches, the right job is out there so never lose heart. Finally, you can change your life for the better, whether it’s a new house, a new job or a new body. In one short year, my life has improved beyond my expectations and I will be eternally grateful to every single person who has helped me along the way.

I wish you all an adventurous 2017 and hope that you achieve your dreams – they are within reach. They really are.